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Sustainable Transport: The Keystone of Global Development Goals

Updated: Dec 2, 2023



Have you ever considered how the simple act of commuting impacts global poverty, education, and health? How does our daily travel influence the lives of those in the remotest parts of the world?

 

As World Sustainable Transport Day unfolds this November 26, I find myself journeying back through my professional experiences in the transport sector. This journey began at a time when sustainable transport was emerging, yet its significance was not fully recognised in global development strategies.

 

In my early career, I was part of a team conducting a feasibility study for a road project. As the only woman economist in the group, I was given the task of addressing issues that were then considered secondary: gender, environmental impacts, HIV/AIDS, and occupational safety. Engaging with these so-called 'peripheral' issues opened my eyes to the broader societal implications of transport. This experience was the catalyst for my commitment to championing gender equality and social inclusion within the transport sector.

 

Reflecting on the past, it is intriguing to consider the reasons transport was not a focal point in global development agendas. The United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which guided global development until 2015, did not directly address transport. Despite its pivotal role in socio-economic progress, transport was somewhat of a background player.

 

With the transition to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there was a shift in perspective. Sustainable transport finally earned recognition, not as an isolated objective, but as an integral element across various goals. However, this inclusion came with nuances. Sustainable transport was acknowledged as a target within the SDGs, notably under goals like Sustainable Cities and Communities and Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, but it was not elevated to the status of a standalone goal. This placement, while a positive step, somewhat underplays the overarching importance of sustainable transport. It risks being seen as a subsidiary issue, rather than a central, driving force in its own right.

 

As I reflect on this, it reinforces my belief that sustainable transport deserves greater prominence. It is not just a facilitator tucked within other goals; it is a critical foundation for achieving broader development objectives. My work and advocacy continue to be fueled by this conviction, striving to elevate the role of sustainable transport in our collective journey towards a more sustainable, equitable future.

 

But what exactly is sustainable transport?

Imagine a world where your morning commute contributes to reducing global inequality and fostering sustainable communities. How can the transformation of transport systems turn this vision into reality?

 

Sustainable transport encompasses environmentally friendly, safe, affordable, and accessible ways of moving people and goods. Its aim is to reduce environmental negatives such as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The core principles of sustainable transport include:

 

1.    Efficiency: Using energy effectively, promoting fuel-efficient vehicles, public transport, cycling, and developing infrastructure that lessens the need for cars.

 

2.    Clean Energy: Shifting to electricity, renewable fuels, and hydrogen to power transport, reducing air pollution and emissions.

 

3.    Accessibility: Ensuring transport is available to all, regardless of income, age, or ability, by providing affordable public transport and improving walking and cycling infrastructure.

 

4.    Safety: Prioritising the safety of all transport system users through better road safety infrastructure and safe driving practices.

 

To realise sustainable transport, strategies like investing in public transport, encouraging cycling and walking, promoting electric vehicles, and advancing smart transport technologies are key. These efforts are crucial for a sustainable, equitable future, reducing environmental impacts, enhancing health, and creating more livable communities. In my career, I have seen how sustainable transport can significantly shape and improve our societies.

 

The Role of Sustainable Transport in Achieving the SDGs

Sustainable transport is crucial in achieving global development goals, significantly affecting areas ranging from service accessibility to climate change mitigation. The integration of sustainable transport into our global systems is essential for meeting these ambitious goals. Here is a more focused look at the impact of sustainable transport on each of the 17 SDGs:

 

1. No Poverty: Transport enables access to jobs and services, which is essential for lifting people out of poverty. Improved transport networks facilitate the movement of goods and services, increasing the economic vitality of both rural and urban communities. However, poor people often face restricted mobility, limiting their participation in economic activities. They typically make fewer trips than those who are not poor, and their journeys are often non-motorised. While this may be more environmentally friendly, it can reduce the efficiency of production and output, particularly in the agricultural sector. In many developing countries, this sector consists of geographically dispersed farmers who depend heavily on reliable transport to access markets and sell their produce.

 

2.    Zero Hunger: Efficient transport is vital in bridging the gap between rural areas, where much of our food is produced, and urban markets. This link is crucial for a stable food supply and the fight against hunger. In regions with inadequate transport infrastructure, farmers face significant challenges in getting their produce to market promptly and cost-effectively. This often leads to increased post-harvest losses, critically affecting food security. The development of transport systems not only supports farmers in transporting their produce but also plays a role in enhancing the overall agricultural value chain. By reducing the time and cost of transportation, we can increase market access for farmers, leading to better pricing, reduced food waste, and improved livelihoods, which are all essential for combating global hunger.

 

3.    Good Health and Well-being:   Accessible healthcare is heavily reliant on reliable transport. Efficient transport is crucial for emergency healthcare services, particularly for accessing maternity services in remote areas. It also plays a pivotal role in facilitating health outreach programmes. The relationship between transport and health extends beyond mere accessibility, it promotes physical activity through the encouragement of walking and cycling. This can significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, contributing to overall public health. While improved transport increases mobility, it simultaneously can elevate the risk of spreading diseases like Ebola, COVID-19, HIV, and AIDS. Historical examples have demonstrated that locations such as truck stopovers can become hotspots for infection, underscoring the importance of comprehensively planning transport systems with public health implications in mind. Therefore, in tandem with the development of transport systems, there is a critical need for heightened awareness and the implementation of public health measures to effectively mitigate these risks.

 

4.    Quality Education: Transport is integral to accessing educational opportunities. In rural and remote areas, the lack of safe and reliable transport disproportionately affects children’s regular school attendance, particularly affecting girls who may face longer and more dangerous journeys. These transport challenges contribute significantly to higher dropout rates and educational inequality. Improved transport infrastructure can facilitate better attendance rates, enhance safety on school routes, and reduce the gender gap in education. By ensuring that children, especially girls, can safely and reliably reach their schools, we foster an environment where education is accessible to all, thereby nurturing future generations and contributing to the overall development of the community.

 

5.    Gender Equality:  Women are uniquely impacted by transport challenges, facing long distances, poor infrastructure, high costs, and inefficient options. These barriers exacerbate time poverty, personal insecurity, and restricted mobility. In many rural areas, women bear the responsibility of sourcing basic necessities like energy, water, and food, often traveling extensive distances without access to efficient means. Improved transport systems are critical in addressing these challenges, enhancing women’s access to resources, and providing greater opportunities for empowerment. By prioritising gender-responsive transport solutions, we can ensure that transport systems are inclusive and cater to the needs of women, thereby supporting their economic and social participation and advancing gender equality.

 

6.    Clean Water and Sanitation: Efficient transport facilitates the distribution of clean water and sanitation services. In rural areas, the quality of community-level transport infrastructure is crucial for accessing clean water. In regions where water supply systems are not well-developed, efficient transport is key to delivering water, particularly in arid areas. Furthermore, inadequate transport can also impede the provision of sanitation services, as materials and resources cannot be easily transported to where they are needed.

 

7.    Affordable and Clean Energy: Sustainable transport systems are vital for the transition to a low-carbon economy. In many developing regions, the lack of infrastructure for clean energy transportation hinders the adoption of sustainable energy solutions. This can perpetuate reliance on traditional, polluting forms of transport, impeding progress towards cleaner, more sustainable energy use.

 

8.    Decent Work and Economic Growth: Transport is a key driver of economic growth and employment. Sustainable transport can stimulate economic growth by creating jobs in new industries, such as renewable energy and green technology. In areas with limited transport options, access to job markets is restricted, hampering economic development. Additionally, poor transport infrastructure can inhibit the growth of industries and limit the creation of new employment opportunities.

 

9.    Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: Reliable and efficient transport is essential for industry and innovation. In regions lacking in transport infrastructure, industries struggle to develop due to challenges in accessing raw materials and markets. This limitation can also stifle innovation and impede the development of resilient infrastructure.

 

10.  Reduced Inequalities: Transport plays a crucial role in diminishing social and economic inequalities. Across various regions, marginalised communities often face limited access to efficient transport, which exacerbates existing divides. The disparity in transport infrastructure between developing and developed countries further intensifies these inequalities. Addressing this challenge is essential; it requires tailored solutions and international cooperation to enhance the transport infrastructure in developing nations. Such enhancements not only facilitate equality in terms of rights and opportunities for all but also are vital for social integration and access to essential services. Particularly for disadvantaged groups, improved transport connectivity is crucial not only for accessing opportunities but also for sustaining vital social ties.



11.  Sustainable Cities and Communities: Sustainable transport directly addresses challenges such as traffic congestion, air pollution, and noise pollution, thereby significantly reducing the ecological footprint of cities. Initiatives like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, bike-sharing schemes, pedestrian walkways, and the increasing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), particularly in more affluent economies, play a pivotal role in this transformation. These measures not only alleviate traffic congestion but also make our cities more walkable, livable, and eco-friendly. In cities facing challenges with underdeveloped transport systems, the implementation of these solutions is key to enhancing the quality of life. By targeting the root causes of urban congestion and diverse forms of pollution, including noise, these measures foster more enjoyable and environmentally friendly urban environments.

 

12.  Responsible Consumption and Production: Transport is essential for fostering efficient resource use and enhancing sustainable consumption patterns. Efficient transport systems, by optimising logistics and supply chains, contribute significantly to reducing waste and emissions. In areas where transport is inefficient, the movement of goods faces challenges, leading to increased waste and emissions, which are detrimental to sustainable practices. Hence, sustainable transport systems are crucial in promoting resource efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of production and distribution.

 

13.  Climate Action: The transport sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In regions lacking sustainable transport options, these emissions continue to rise, posing a challenge to climate change mitigation efforts. Transitioning to greener modes of transport is therefore essential for reducing these emissions. The promotion of electric vehicles (EVs), renewable energy sources, and public transportation plays a key role in this transition. The increasing shift towards EVs, especially in wealthier economies, exemplifies a positive trend in reducing emissions and combating climate change. These efforts are not only crucial in reducing the environmental impact of transport but also form an integral part of the global response to environmental challenges.

 

14.  Life below Water: Efficient transport systems contribute to the protection of marine ecosystems by reducing both air and water pollution. Adoption of cleaner shipping practices and minimising runoff from road transport are crucial for maintaining healthier oceans and seas. In regions where conventional maritime transport is prevalent, the risk to marine environments from pollution is significant, necessitating a shift towards more environmentally friendly transport solutions.

 

15. Life on Land: Sustainable transport plays a crucial role in safeguarding terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity. By minimising the ecological impact of transport infrastructure, it helps prevent habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. In areas where transport development does not adequately consider environmental consequences, the damage to natural habitats can be substantial, underscoring the need for sustainable approaches in transport planning and implementation.

 

16.  Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Efficient transport is essential for the development of strong institutions and the facilitation of justice and peace. In post-conflict areas, the restoration of transport networks is crucial for rebuilding peace and ensuring access to public services. Efficient transportation infrastructure also plays a significant role in reducing the time and cost associated with government responses in fragile regions, crucial for peacekeeping and stabilisation efforts. Moreover, in areas with limited transport options, access to legal and governmental services becomes challenging, weakening the rule of law and institutional integrity. Therefore, a robust and efficient transport system is key to supporting the development of peaceful and inclusive societies, enhancing justice, and reinforcing the strength and effectiveness of institutions.16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Efficient transport enhances access to justice and essential services, supporting the development of peaceful and inclusive societies.

 

17.   Partnerships for the Goals: The advancement of sustainable transport requires global collaboration. In areas where such partnerships are weak, progress towards sustainable transport and, consequently, sustainable development is slow, underscoring the need for international cooperation and support.

 

Concluding Reflections

Reflecting on the Sustainable Development Goals, it becomes increasingly apparent that the role of transport extends beyond infrastructure and services. It acts as a fundamental enabler in achieving all other SDGs, a distinction possibly unparalleled by any other single development aspect. Transport’s integration with key areas such as health, education, economic growth, and environmental sustainability underlines its essential role in creating equitable, sustainable, and prosperous societies. As the world progresses towards the 2030 target for the SDGs, spotlighting transport and ensuring it receives prioritised attention in the global development agenda is imperative.


Although transport infrastructure often attracts significant investment, both from local revenues and international funding, this typically focuses on the physical aspects. Looking ahead, there is a pressing need for a broader approach that embraces accessibility, sustainability, and inclusivity within transport policies. As we approach the 2030 milestone, transport should be recognised not only for its infrastructure demands but also as a pivotal element in strategic planning for broader developmental objectives.


Join us at NITE TANZARN IntellectNest in advocating for and shaping a future where sustainable transport is at the heart of global development.

 

 

About the Author

Nite Tanzarn is a leading authority in sustainable transport, renowned for her dedication to integrating transport with socio-economic development and gender equality. Her work, focused on developing inclusive transport systems, has significantly contributed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Nite’s advocacy for gender-responsive transport policies has made substantial impacts, particularly in developing regions. As a respected speaker and author, her insights are rooted in practical experience, shaping her vision for equitable and sustainable transport solutions globally.

 


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18 comentarios


Invitado
29 nov 2023

Hi Nite. Thanks for sharing informative articles. May God bless your hand that writes

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
30 nov 2023
Contestando a

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I'm glad you find the articles informative. May we continue to share and learn together in our journey towards understanding and achieving global development goals.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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Invitado
27 nov 2023

Great article. Transport contributes to the risk of infection of diseases such as HIV and AIDS, Stopovers for truckers used to be hotspots.

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
27 nov 2023
Contestando a

Thank you for your insightful comment! You've highlighted a crucial aspect of transport's impact on public health. Indeed, the intersection of transport and health goes beyond accessibility to services; it also includes the role of transport in the spread of diseases like HIV and AIDS. Historical examples like truck stopovers being hotspots for infection underscore the need for comprehensive planning in transport systems that considers public health implications. Appreciate your engagement on this important topic.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNes

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Invitado
27 nov 2023

Always so proud of your intellect my sister

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
27 nov 2023
Contestando a

Thank you so much for your kind words and support! It means a lot to me, especially coming from you. I'm grateful to be able to share my thoughts and work in a field I'm passionate about, and it's heartening to know it resonates with others. Let's continue to learn, grow, and make a difference together.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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Invitado
27 nov 2023

Wonderful my dear sister,in Kampala alone jam is a serious obstacle to SDGs like you have highlighted, keep us enlightened.

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
27 nov 2023
Contestando a

Thank you so much, Esther! Indeed, the traffic congestion in Kampala is a vivid example of how transport challenges can impede progress towards achieving SDGs. It's a situation that reflects the broader issues many urban areas face. I'm glad to hear that the points raised resonated with you. I'll certainly continue to share insights and discussions on these critical topics. Together, we can advocate for and contribute to more sustainable transport solutions.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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Invitado
27 nov 2023

As governments around the world set stricter emissions standards and the cost of EVs continues to drop, it’s likely that we will see more and more electric cars on the roads., particularly in the rich economies.

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
27 nov 2023
Contestando a

That's a keen observation! The shift towards electric vehicles (EVs) is indeed gaining momentum, especially in wealthier economies, driven by stricter emissions regulations and more affordable EV options. This trend is a positive sign towards achieving greener, more sustainable transportation globally. It's crucial, however, to also focus on increasing EV accessibility in all economies to ensure a more widespread impact.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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