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New UN study points to ways to create sustainable inland transport

Published: 23 February 2016

Europe has managed to decouple the increase in motorization and death on roads in the last several decades, due to the strong embrace of road safety measures and their enforcement, coupled with uniform high safety regulations for cars and systematic education of drivers, according to a new study from the United Nations.

The study “Transport for Sustainable Development - The case of Inland Transport”  was developed by the five Regional Commission of the UN in cooperation with key inland transport stakeholders and spearheaded by UNECE.  The study examines issues, progress and challenges in global efforts to achieve the transition to sustainable inland mobility for both people and freight and is the first of this kind to take on a global perspective, examining best practices and challenges form every corner of the globe. 

Among other findings, the study shows that some regions such as Latin America and Western Asia have managed to slow the rate of increase of road fatalities in spite of an increase in the level of motorisation. However, most other regions of the world have experienced a simultaneous increase in both indicators.

Global transport-related per capita CO2 emissions increased by 6% between 2001 and 2011. During the same period, the UNECE region reduced per capita CO2 emissions, with significant reductions for Western European countries, while all other regions registered increases of 15% to over 35%.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there has been renewed impetus to shift the transport sector towards a more sustainable model. This study identifies where the various regions of the world are at the beginning of the march towards the Sustainable Development Goals for transport.  

Transport is indispensable for any society to grow economically and socially as well as to connect it with markets and the rest of the world.  In order to achieve any sustainable development, transport sector must be economically efficient, safe, secure and environmentally friendly. 

However, its obvious negative impacts such as road crashes, air and noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, could be mitigated, as the study show-cases through a wealth of good and best practices. Furthermore, the study also identifies the main challenges and opportunities to accelerate the transition to sustainability.

The study highlights the five defining dimensions of sustainable transport – accessibility, affordability, safety, security and environmental performance.

For example, accessibility and affordability of public transport allows people in rural and urban environments to access employment, education and medical services, thereby contributing to the stability of the economic and social environment and allowing for growth.  A lack of access for passenger or freight transport isolates individual sections of society creating and perpetuating stagnation and desolation. 

The study looks at theoretical insights and best practices from all regions of the world mapping similarities and differences among countries of different income groupings and geographical regions in their efforts to create a more sustainable transport sector.  A common element globally is that transport is central in shifting to sustainable low carbon societies but a high level of political will is needed to decouple its growth from impacts like air pollution, traffic accidents and climate change. 

Note to editors

The study was presented today at the 78th Annual Session of the Inland Transport Committee (ITC).

It is the result of the cooperation among the five Regional Commissions of the United Nations and key global stakeholders, particularly, the International Road Transport Union (IRU) and the International Union of Railways (UIC).


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