The real work starts after Paris

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World governments will need public transport to help keep their COP21 promises

Will it end up like Copenhagen six years ago, where talks collapsed in chaos?

The lead-up to the climate talks (COP21) has been fraught with worry.  Will the promised emissions cuts add up? Will it end up like Copenhagen six years ago, where talks collapsed in chaos?

There are certain things that need to happen in Paris for it to be deemed a success:

All countries, regardless of size or wealth – from massive polluters like the US and China to tiny island states most at risk of rising sea levels like the Maldives – will have to make a solid commitment to do something about climate change. (See the list of pre-conference list of promised cuts here). Then they need to agree to track and regularly review their emissions cuts. Finally, they also have to agree on the how and what of giving financial support to less well-off countries to make sure they can live up to their commitments.

But as challenging as the negotiations are going to be, the real work starts after Paris when these world governments will have to find ways to live up to their commitments and scale up their ambition. That’s where public transport comes in.

In the run up to Paris, countries were asked to make a list of Intended Nationally Declared Contributions, or INDCs, and they cover everything from energy production to agriculture and of course, transport. Some of them mention specific transport-related promises; for example, China intends to increase modal share by 30%. Jordan intends to increase the total number of commuters using public transport to 25% of the total by 2025. Other countries have been less specific but around a quarter of the plans submitted to date have targeted specific interventions on public transport.

UITP members will be instrumental in delivering on national commitments.

It might be difficult for UITP members to see why they should be concerned about the talks in Paris. But making the link between the promises on paper and the actual emissions is going to be vital, post-Paris, and UITP members will be instrumental in delivering on national commitments.  It is for this reason that UITP will be helping them make the case to scale up ambition on public transport at COP21 because it is the most effective means to reduce emissions while driving economic growth. 

More public transport means fewer transport emissions

There will be a number of high level events around COP21. These events will feature industries and NGOs lobbying government officials, trying to convince them that they can help in the daunting collective task of keeping any global temperature increase from rising above 2 degrees after Paris. UITP will be present making the case for climate action with public transport.

In 2014 we asked our members to make take a look at their operations and make some commitments to cut emissions. Over 110 UITP members took up the challenge and were presented to national governments at the UN Climate Summit last year.  The idea was to show not only that this sector has not only the willingness to do so, but also the means.

Many of our members’ commitments include plans to switch to cleaner fuels, or to gradually green their entire fleets. The list of commitments, however, also included many plans for generally improving public transport services - and herein lies a very important message:

In light of the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, transport in general has been getting a lot of bad press.

Promoting the use of and more public transport is just as important. It might seem ironic to some, but cutting transport emissions will require more public transport emissions.

In light of the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, transport in general has been getting a lot of bad press. Statistics abound: transport is responsible for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions, or, according to UN’s own figures, transport is either the first or second largest energy consuming sector in every country in the world. But we must not forget that transport in these cases often includes everything from freight to jumbo jets to private cars. A public transport bus, if people are incentivised to use it, would take about 40 cars off the road.

See the difference?

Avoiding another failed ‘mega meeting”

More people need to make the decision to stop driving a car and ‘make the shift’ to mass transport instead. Decision makers, if they are serious, will get to work investing in public transport infrastructure, and incentivising the public to use our services by introducing new policies to govern access in city centres: congestion charges, park and ride, and many more.

This is our message, and we will be trying to make it heard in Paris and beyond.

Light at the end of the tunnel

COP21’s success will also depend on the shared understanding on the complementary of sustainable development, economic growth and climate responsibility.  In September, global leaders from all nations agreed on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for our planet. 17 goals include a specific target on the need to expand public transport for the cities of the future over the next 15 years.

Our members are doing their part to make buses, trams, trains, as well as interchanges and everything else nicer, more comfortable, easier and more convenient than a private car.

Everybody is committed to these goals – governments are committed, civil society is committed, academia is committed, the private sector is committed – everyone owns these sustainable development goals.  If realised, we can hugely advance efforts on climate action while also benefiting people and economic growth given the huge co-benefits associated with public transport.

For the world to achieve these ambitious goals, it is crucial to utilise the strength of the public transport sector.  It is for this reason that UITP and around 130 of its members through the UITP Sustainability Charter has committed to ensure that we track progress against the targets so that national governments can put the appropriate policies and investments for their realisation. 

Our members are doing their part to make buses, trams, trains, as well as interchanges and everything else nicer, more comfortable, easier and more convenient than a private car. But they can’t do it without investment, and the policies to make the investments worthwhile.  The SDGs provides a clear signal to Parties and business where to invest for the benefit for people and planet and COP21 must act on this.

By the end of this year, the UN hopes to have achieved what has eluded it for 20 years: a global agreement on reducing emissions. We will be in Paris to convince world leaders that the way to do it has been right under their noses all along.

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