Current methods of getting from one place to another are generating serious problems for both human wellbeing and the environment. Transport gobbles up over half of the planet’s liquid fossil fuels and is responsible for almost a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Our motorized lifestyle is causing widespread air pollution, over a million fatal traffic accidents per year, and chronic traffic congestion—impacts that can cost countries more than 10 percent of their gross domestic product.
For the moment, there is little sign that the global appetite for vehicular transport is diminishing. Vehicle use in developing countries is increasing—at the current rate, the global vehicle fleet is set to triple by 2050. Yet investments in public transportation and vehicle efficiency can yield exceptional economic returns. Several studies show that a green, low-carbon transport sector could reduce GHG emissions from the sector by as much 70 percent, with minimal additional investment. And when sustainable regulatory policies are added to the mix, the road to greener transport begins to look a lot shorter.
For this transformation to happen, however, there needs to be a major shift in the way we think about investing in transport. UNEP proposes a three-pronged strategy: Avoid–Shift–Clean. Help users avoid or reduce trips—without restricting mobility—through smarter city planning and land use options. Shift passengers away from private vehicles to public and non-motorized transport, and freight users from trucks to rail or water transport. Finally, make vehicles cleaner, through both efficiency improvements and cleaner fuels.
UNEP’s Transport Programme is working towards this paradigm shift through several initiatives and programmes, including: