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January 25, 2022

Changing the Way We Move: A Win-Win for Climate and Development


Traffic congestion in the center of Dakar, Senegal. Photo: Sarah Farhat/World Bank.


  • Global passenger transport and global freight volume are on the rise due to rapid urbanization and motorization in developing countries.
  • There is often a perception that rising emissions are a de facto cost of development, but recent infrastructure projects by the World Bank demonstrate that climate action and transport solutions can go hand in hand.
  • A new initiative—the Global Facility to Decarbonize Transport (GFDT)—was created to accelerate investments in new technology and transport.

On a good day, getting to the center of Dakar, Senegal, took taxi driver Amassir Ngon two to three hours due to traffic logjams. Amassir was one of approximately 100,000 drivers attempting to enter the city via a single double-lane road, encumbered by broken-down vehicles and exhaust-filled air.

“I have been driving in Dakar for 15 years. I know all of Dakar,” said Amassir. “You could spend two to three hours just to exit the city,” a 25-kilometer drive, he explained.

The picture is the same across many parts of the developing world: as cities and economies grow, the demand for transport has been rising steadily.

Global passenger traffic is expected to grow 50% between 2015 and 2030, while global freight volume could soar by as much as 70%.  Domestic and international transport already account for 20% of global GHG emissions. Left unchecked, that number is projected to grow even higher over the next few decades—a situation that would make it almost impossible to achieve global climate goals.  

“The policy decisions we make today in the transport sector could truly make or break the future of climate action. We need to change the way we move,” says World Bank Infrastructure Vice President Riccardo Puliti. “To get cities ready for the future, we need to shift away from outdated, disconnected transport and push for more modern options that do a better job of connecting people with opportunities. But we must do this with a much smaller climate footprint.”

The massive daily logjam that snared Amassir’s commute encapsulates the related challenges facing developing country cities: completely clogged roads with few to no alternatives. Time lost. Money wasted. Missed opportunities. Smoggy air. While the situation is deteriorating, governments’ options are limited—especially in a context where the pandemic has put significant pressure on fiscal resources.

"To get cities ready for the future, we need to shift away from outdated, disconnected transport and push for more modern options that do a better job of connecting people with opportunities. But we must do this with a much smaller climate footprint."
Riccardo Puliti
Vice President for Infrastructure, World Bank

A pressing need for climate action and improvements to mobility are on a collision course, and transport is at the center of it all. On the surface, it may seem that countries need to prioritize one over the other.

“There is often a perception that rising transport emissions are a de facto by-product of GDP growth—a necessary price that countries have to pay if they want to develop. But experience on the ground has shown the opposite: with the right policies and investments, climate-smart transport not only reduces emissions but can also bolster economic growth and other development outcomes, ranging from public health to social inclusion,” says Binyam Reja, World Bank Acting Global Director for Transport.

In FY21, the World Bank approved 19 new transport projects for a total of $3.6 billion. Some 59% of World Bank transport projects now include climate co-benefits, which means they directly contribute to reducing countries’ GHG emissions and/or enhancing climate resilience.

In Senegal, for example, the World Bank is financing a Bus Rapid Transit System in Dakar that will save 434,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions while putting an additional 120,000 employment opportunities within the reach of low-income residents. In Quito, Ecuador, a new metro line co-financed by the World Bank will transport 400,000 people daily and get thousands of private vehicles off the roads. And in Egypt, we worked with the government to scrap and recycle 45,000 aging “clunker” taxis, reducing carbon emissions by nearly 220,000 tons.

A construction crew working on the World Bank-supported metro project in Quito, Ecuador. Photo: Paul Salazar/World Bank.

More of these customized, large-scale projects are needed. But equipping developing countries with modern, green and inclusive infrastructure comes with a high price tag. The World Bank estimates that the annual transport infrastructure financing gap could be as much as $944 billion annually through 2030. This dwarfs the limits of traditional sources of funding such as government budgets or multilateral assistance.   

To amplify the impact of this work, the World Bank recently launched the Global Facility to Decarbonize Transport (GFDT). During the 2021 COP26 Climate Change Conference, the initiative received initial funding from 4 donors – Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

“Many solutions for reducing the climate impact of transport already exist, from making public transport greener to using electric and hydrogen technologies,” says Greg Hands, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change. “I look forward to working with the Global Facility to Decarbonize Transport (GFDT) over the coming years to scale up investment and adapt these solutions, so every country can be part of the global transition to Zero Emission Vehicles.”

The GFDT has a double mandate. First, it will conduct research and analytical work to help governments prepare bankable, context-relevant projects. Second, the Facility will complement traditional World Bank financing to pilot a new generation of climate-smart transport programs, with a focus on innovative solutions that could not happen without GFDT support.

With a first tranche of projects to be announced in 2022 and more donors expected to join in the coming months, the GFDT is quickly moving from concept to implementation.

Bucking the trend will require urgent and ambitious action.

For Amassir Ngon and other citizens around Dakar, the progress is evident. With World Bank support, the previously hours-long commute now takes just 20 minutes. The now-underway BRT route will connect even more people to opportunities while lowering emissions. With more projects like these, developing countries will not have to choose between development and climate action.