A Global Opportunity for Sustainable Transport

July 31, 2015


  • Transport connects people to opportunity — including education, health care, jobs and trade — but adequate transport is frequently unavailable for the world's poorest and most vulnerable
  • Global transport investment are US$1-$2 trillion per year, but less than 40 percent of that is invested in developing countries
  • The recent Financing for Development Conference and the upcoming adoption of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals are opportunities to strengthen transport's role in fighting poverty and building shared prosperity

Transport is a key driver on the road to ending poverty. In every country around the world, transport connects people and communities to jobs, schools and health care. It is necessary for the movement of goods, expansion of markets and growth of trade, which lead to economic development.

As a result, transport is a critical component of the upcoming post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, transport systems are addressed in Goal 11, “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” with an emphasis on making transport more accessible for people in vulnerable situations.

However, adequate transport is currently unavailable for millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Even though global transport investments are estimated at between US$1-$2 trillion per year, less than 40 percent is invested in developing countries, home to more than 80 percent of the world’s population.

The United Nations, which is convening the world’s governments and international institutions around the SDGs, has made a commitment to transport’s role in the global agenda. One year ago, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the membership of a High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport to provide recommendations on sustainable transport actionable at the global, national, local and sector levels.

This Advisory Group will work with governments, transport providers, businesses, financial institutions, civil society and other stakeholders to promote sustainable transport systems and their integration into development strategies and policies — including climate action. It will promote sustainable transport that emphasizes inclusive and equitable growth, social development, protection of the global environment and ecosystems, and climate change.

In June 2015, addressing the Advisory Group, Pierre Guislain, World Bank Senior Director for Transport and ICT, pointed out that “today’s decisions on investment in transport will lock-in countries and cities on a sustainable or unsustainable development path for decades to come.” World Bank experts also sit on the technical working group which informs the Advisory Group.

At this month’s Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Advisory Group circulated a Position Paper on Financing Sustainable Transport, which outlines specific commitments for achieving transport goals. This paper is the first of a series for the Advisory Group, with papers on the SDGs and on climate change scheduled for the coming months.

Other Advisory Group responsibilities include:

  • Providing a global message and recommendations on sustainable transport, including on innovative policy and multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable transport;
  • Launching a "Global Transport Outlook Report" to provide analytical support for these recommendations;
  • Helping mobilize action and initiatives in support of sustainable transport among key actors; and
  • Promoting the integration of sustainable transport in relevant intergovernmental processes, including making recommendations on the formulation and implementation of the post-2015 development agenda.

In addition, the Advisory Group will focus attention on more specific aspects of sustainable transport, including rural transport, freight and logistics, global trade, infrastructure, green transport and road safety. It is essential that this effort reach across the public and private sectors, and draw on the expertise and resources of a wide range of global actors.

At the meeting of the High-Level Advisory Group in Milan in June, Mr. Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reminded the Advisory Group Members that "transport sits at the intersection of many SDGs — on health, sustainable cities, climate, economic growth — and with your expertise this Advisory Group can lead the way to innovative solutions addressing these integrated issues.”

The adoption of the SDGs is a crucial opportunity for commitment and operationalization of the sustainable transport agenda. The World Bank is dedicated to continuing its decades-long program of alleviating poverty and building shared prosperity through better transport for all.