Developing countries, led by China and India, will build more urban areas between now and 2030 than humanity has throughout history. These 21st-century cities can drive social and environmental progress by embracing sustainable approaches to urban development, including transportation.

Recognizing this situation, the world’s biggest multilateral development banks (MDBs) pledged in June 2012 to provide $175 billion over 10 years to help fund sustainable transportation systems. EMBARQ played an important supporting role in the banks’ decision to invest this unprecedented sum into initiatives in emerging regions like Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

A Game Changer for Sustainable Transport

The banks’ announcement, made at the U.N. Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20), will enable the scale-up of sustainable transport systems across the developing world. Equally important, it signals a critical shift in MDB investment policies, moving away from environmentally damaging transport infrastructure such as highways.

The financial institutions taking part are the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, and the World Bank.

Over the next decade, their investments in initiatives such as improved mass transit systems and walking and cycling routes, should bring cleaner air, less congested roads, and safer transport to hundreds of millions of people. Other benefits will likely include improved mobility for the poor, safer roads, and reductions in transport-related climate impacts. Transport is responsible for about one-quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The banks’ leadership is also likely to encourage national governments to adopt such transport projects, placing sustainability at the heart of urban development.

Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role

For four years, EMBARQ played a key public role in the discussions and preparatory processes that led to the banks’ joint declaration. For example, EMBARQ organized several Transforming Transportation conferences in partnership with the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, convening thought leaders to focus on MDB policy. EMBARQ helped found the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), whose advocacy played a pivotal role in catalyzing the MDBs’ financial commitment. EMBARQ also advised and built close working relationships with influential decision-makers at the Asian Development Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, two institutions at the forefront of the shift in MDBs’ thinking. The attention paid to sustainable transport at Rio+20—not only by MDBs, but by governments, NGOs, and civil society—provides an unparalleled opportunity to scale up EMBARQ’s work at international, national, and local levels worldwide.