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Only 99 months to put the brakes on the climate crisis

On the road to climate protection, there is no way around transportation. An article by GIZ Managing Director Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven.

The goal is already set. We need to stop climate change. Our challenge now is to determine the best way of achieving that goal – and the direct path must include transport. Worldwide, a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from this sector, but although we know how we can bring this down, for example through more cycling, walking, buses, trains and electric vehicles, we have not yet managed to cut transport emissions significantly, either in Germany, where our target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 per cent between now and 2030, or in the rest of the world. It’s clear that climate change is a global challenge that no country can tackle alone. What we need is a decisive global rethink and greater international cooperation in our common interest. 

The crisis as an opportunity for sustainable mobility

That includes promoting sustainable and smart urban mobility. This must be the way forward in Germany and the rest of the world, perhaps with some help from coronavirus stimulus programmes to boost the economy. Let us use the crisis as an opportunity to push for systematic and sustainable investment and a ‘green recovery’ and to challenge long-established models. For example, instead of continuing to subsidise fossil fuels at a rate of eleven million dollars per minute, as the International Monetary Fund recently calculated, let us use those eleven million dollars per minute to encourage sustainable mobility. 
Overall, governments worldwide are investing 20 trillion euros in the post-pandemic future. That’s forty times Germany’s federal budget. In past crises – the oil crisis or the financial crisis – the main focus was on direct financial impacts in order to reinvigorate the economy. Today, we can use that public money instead to drive a sustainable green recovery based on the principles of social justice.
The transport sector must be a part of that. We should use our coronavirus stimulus programmes as a chance to rethink long-established systems and subject all our administrative, planning and economic models to the same critical test: do they help us to decarbonise transport and simultaneously rebuild our economies, particularly in the global south? Lockdown restrictions choked off demand for public transport in many places. During this time, cities in developing countries and emerging economies also saw their revenue fall by up to 90 per cent – with no safety nets. This has had the effect of delaying key investments, for example in sustainable local public transport systems and climate-friendly technology. 

Modern transport systems as economic engines

One example of just how much transport and the economy are interlinked can be found in metropolitan regions such as Lagos in Nigeria, where four-hour-plus commutes are not unusual. This can seriously undermine economic activity in those countries – goods don’t arrive, people can’t get to work or to school or the hospital. All over the world, it is clear that things just stop working without that backbone of local public transport. We need to reduce the volume of traffic, make it more efficient, switch to environmentally friendly technologies and use those coronavirus stimulus packages to make all this happen. In concrete terms, that means not only mitigating the immediate consequences of the crisis – as right and crucial as that is – but also ensuring structure-building results over the long term.

At GIZ, we see the transition to more sustainable transport systems as one of our top priorities. Around 400 of my colleagues are working with countries and municipalities around the world on plans to develop sustainable forms of mobility. You have to approach this from multiple directions: urban development and infrastructure, sustainable local public transport, new technologies and sustainable fuels. Many of our partner countries have launched impressive initiatives to drive those changes: Chile is currently investing USD 2.5 billion in the modernisation of its local public transport systems. Mexico, Colombia and Peru have created hundreds of kilometres of cycle lanes in their capital cities during the pandemic. Those are just a few examples to show that countries in the global south have also recognised how important this is. With the world climate conference (COP26) coming up soon in Glasgow, the fact that three quarters of all national climate programmes very specifically target CO2 reductions from transport as a major factor demonstrates a strong sense of reality. That’s why the issue of transport is one of the most important items on the COP agenda – and rightly so. Now is the time to adopt concrete, binding and verifiable action plans. Because we have less than 99 months between now and 2030 to put the brakes on the climate crisis.

First published in: Tagesspiegel Background (German version only) (28.10.2021)

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