"The problem of climate change is severe, and we need a large-scale shift in transport—in large cities, in rural areas, all around the world…” said Mayor Carolina Toha of Santiago, Chile, co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport.

Many leaders from local and national governments, NGOs and the private sector joined Mayor Toha’s support of sustainable mobility at COP21 in Paris. In fact, never in the history of UN climate summits has there been such a bright spotlight on transport. This is a great, momentous kick-start to promote widespread adoption of sustainable mobility as a strategy to curb climate change.  

Out of the 200 side events at COP21, more than 40 were dedicated to sustainable, low-carbon transport. It was apparent that key stakeholders recognize the potential of sustainable mobility to help limit warming to below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F).

According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, sustainable transport is the “common thread” between climate action, sustainable development, and economic and social growth. Taking action now will not only prevent some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change, but a recent study by the New Climate Economy found that significant investment in cities—including in public and low-emissions transport—would bring savings worth $17 trillion.would bring savings worth $17 trillion.

How the Paris Agreement Will Shift the Transport Sector

Complying with the goals set out in the new Paris Agreement will require a massive political shift toward low-carbon development. Three major takeaways from the Agreement show that much of this action could take place in the transport sector:

  • Transport included in the INDCs: While transport was not explicitly mentioned in the Paris Agreement, more than 61 percent of countries’ national climate plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), proposed actions to mitigate emissions from the transport sector. Hopefully more countries will scale up action in the transport sector over time—transport already accounts for 23 percent of global emissions, and is the fastest-growing sector in the global economy.
  • Continued support from the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA): The LPAA brings together state and non-state actors to implement climate action. The Paris Agreement indicated that it will continue to build on the LPAA process by explicitly citing support for the initiative in the adopted text. The LPAA brought greater attention to several sectoral topics –including transport –by hosting focused, thematic events at COP21. It is positive news that the LPAA will continue to build on its successes, especially for the transport sector.
  • New transport initiatives launched: The LPAA was key to bringing forth the 15 initiatives presented at the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC) platform’s Transport Day. The International Association of Public Transport (UITP), for example, committed to provide support to “ double the market share of public transport by 2025.” COP21 also saw the launch of the MobiliseYourCity initiative, which aims reduce emissions in developing countries through urban mobility planning. These initiatives are just two examples of the 15 new programs that, if implemented at scale, could reduce the carbon footprint of all passenger and freight trips by nearly half by 2025. Now is the time for governments and the private sector to scale up these transport initiatives and collaborative efforts in order to meet the ambitious 1.5-degree target set in the Paris Agreement.

What to Look for in Sustainable Mobility in 2016

And these announcements are just the beginning. Other initiatives will build on the progress made at COP21. The three key things to keep on the radar are:

  • Climate Action 2016: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon announced that a broad group of organizations would form partnerships in 2016 to maintain momentum for climate action. A summit for the partners from governments, private sector, academia and civil society will be held on May 5-6, 2016 in Washington, D.C. Transport has been selected as a high-value area for this conference, and will bring more opportunities to convert sustainable mobility ideas into actionable, concrete deliverables.
  • UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport report: On December 7, 2015, the UNSG’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport met and emphasized the importance of addressing climate change through sustainable transport solutions. In 2016, the Group plans on launching the “Global Transport Outlook Report,” which will provide analysis and recommendations to support sustainable transport policymaking.
  • UN Habitat’s Habitat III: The UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development conference, known as Habitat III, offers a chance to carry the momentum from COP21 forward. At Habitat III, leaders will discuss creating a “new urban agenda.” Look for lasting sustainable transport solutions to be laid out in concrete, ambitious language.

In order to prepare for these milestones, it is important for leaders from national and local governments to join ongoing, collaborative efforts like the Compact of Mayors and the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance, which also provide connections to key stakeholders at NGOs and in the private sector. By forging these partnerships, national governments can receive additional support for planning and implementation of commitments made at COP21.