World's Largest Development Banks to Invest $175 Billion in Sustainable Transport

By 2050, there will be more than 9 billion people on the planet. And most of them will be driving cars. That's not a good thing

Road transportation is the leading cause of global warming and will continue to be for the next forty years, according to a 2010 study conducted by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), based in New York. The second-highest contributor is the burning of household biofuels—primarily wood and animal dung for home heating and cooking—followed by the raising of livestock, particularly methane-producing cattle.

By 2050, the GISS modeling predicts that electricity generation will overtake road transportation as the highest driver of global warming. But for now, road transportation—and in particular car ownership—has the attention of climate scientists and sustainability experts. In 2002, according to a study published in Energy Journal that analyzed data from 45 countries covering 75 percent of the world's population, there were some 800 million cars on the road. By 2030, that number is expected to surpass 2 billion, with over half of them in non-OECD countries. Over that same period, China's car ownership will multiply nearly twenty-fold, to 390 million cars.

Add to that the fact that by 2050, the world's human population will exceed 9 billion, with more than half primarily living in Asia's megacities, and you've got a recipe for carbon emissions on a scale that makes today's already excessive and unsustainable numbers look small by comparison.


"These two mega-trends are coming together to create an environment where people must compete for financial, institutional, and physical resources," said Holger Dalkmann, director of EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute's center for sustainable transport. "In response, we need better urban designs; more sustainable transportation modes, like walking, biking and mass transit; and improvements in existing vehicle and fuel technology."

"Targeting on-road transportation is a win-win-win," said climatologist Nadine Unger and lead author of the GISS report, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "It's good for the climate in the short term and long term, and it's good for our health."


The world's largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) have responded to this call with a commitment to invest more than $175 billion over the next 10 years in developing countries to support sustainable transportation systems, including low carbon emission initiatives such as car sharing and rapid bus systems.

The landmark pledge was announced at the United Nations Sustainable Development Conference (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro (a.k.a. Rio+20) by 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. The partnership was unparalleled in scope.

"Never before have these institutions collaborated on such a global scale," said Cornie Huizenga, the joint convener of the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT) who also organized the SLoCaT Rio+20 campaign which resulted in the MDBs' sustainable finance commitment. "The breakthrough that we are witnessing allows us to plan for the one billion people who will move to cities over the next 20 years, and the one billion people still living in poverty.


The MDBs estimated that developing countries in Asia will require over $2.5 trillion in sustainable investment for transportation through 2020, while Latin America will require $0.7 trillion. Africa will require $18.3 billion annually through 2020.

"These unprecedented commitments have the promise to save hundreds of thousands of lives by cleaning the air and making roads safer; cutting congestion in hundreds of cities; and reducing the contribution of transportation to harmful climate change," said Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, the United Nations agency for human settlements. "They will create more efficient passenger and freight transportation, spurring sustainable urban economic growth."

"Banks are putting their money where it matters—on streets built for people, not just cars," said Dalkmann. "Years from now, we may look back at Rio+20 as the moment when transport was pushed to the top of the sustainability agenda."

The announcement follows efforts around the world to get people out of their cars and onto bicycles—or their own two feet. Last year, for example, the China Environmental Protection Foundation launched their Green Pedestrian Crossing campaign in car-crazed Shanghai with a simple message: "Walk, don't drive." For the health of the planet and all its inhabitants, human or otherwise, that's just what the doctor ordered.



NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Road Transportation Emerges as Key Driver of Warming. February 18, 2010. Accessed June 22, 2012.
Joyce Dargay, Dermot Gately and Martin Sommer. Vehicle Ownership and Income Growth, Worldwide: 1960-2030. New York University Department of Economics. January 2007. Accessed June 22, 2012.
World Resources Institute. Development Banks Announce "Game Changer" for Sustainable Transport at Rio+20. June 20, 2012. Accessed June 22, 2012.
Ibid., 1.
United Nations News Centre. Rio+20: Development banks to invest $175 billion in sustainable transport. June 20, 2012. Accessed June 22, 2012.
Daniel K. Gardner. NGO Tells Shanghai Residents: Walk, Don’t Drive. April 12, 2011. Accessed June 22, 2012.

image: Transrapid Maglev, Shanghai, China (credit: Yosemite, Wikimedia Commons)