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Netherlands and Thai Missions to the UN hosted panel discussion on Sustainable Transport: An essential building block for Sustainable Development

Last week on the 19th of November 2012, the Missions of the Kingdoms of Netherlands and Thailand in cooperation with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) hosted a meeting attended by over 25 UN Missions to discuss issues related to sustainable transport in the context of the Post-2015 development agenda and the Secretary General’s Action Plan on Sustainable Transport.  The meeting also served as a brainstorming session to test the interest of missions to the UN to two ideas presented by H.E. Ambassador Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands:  1) start an informal group at the UN called “Friends of Transport” which would act as a sounding board on ideas and recommendations related to sustainable transport as a contributor to the post 2015 development agenda; and 2) present at some point in the future a resolution to the UN General Assembly in support of sustainable transport. 

A panel composed of UN Agencies and international sustainable transport experts discussed various ideas related to sustainable transport.  Nikhil Seth, Director for Sustainable Development at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), referred to transport as an “unfinished agenda” that was first discussed when framing the climate change convention in the early 90’s.  An idea floated then then called for two protocols, one on energy and one on transport.  Mr. Seth pointed out an opportunity to raise transport in the context of the SG High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post 2015 Development Agenda.  A Friends of Sustainable Transport group among UN Missions would be a very welcome and supportive development according to Mr. Seth.  He also suggested that Sustainable Transport should be addressed while discussing the future of Landlocked Countries and the Least Developed Countries.

The multilateral development banks (MDBs) were represented by Samuel Tumiwa from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Virginia Tanase from the World Bank (WB).  Mr. Tumiwa reflected on the $ 175 billion voluntary commitment for more sustainable transport made at the Rio+20 conference by the ADB on behalf of 8 MDBs.  He confirmed the willingness of the MDBs to align the implementation of the $ 175 billion voluntary commitment with the SG Action Plan on Sustainable Transport. Mr. Tumiwa shared ADB’s readiness to help develop and fund a comprehensive study to demonstrate the economic, social and environmental case for sustainable transport. Such a study can be an important contribution to efforts by the SG to convene stakeholders on sustainable transport to develop and take action on recommendations on sustainable transport. Ms. Tanase said that the WB will also contribute to this study and described the WB’s policy on “safe, clean and affordable transport for development” and how this guides the WB’s lending and non-lending assistance to the transport sector in developing countries.  Ramon Cruz, from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, representing the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLOCAT), recalled the lead role SLoCaT played in developing the Rio+20 momentum on sustainable transport and emphasized the unprecedented nature of this meeting. Mr. Cruz spoke about the strong support of the international transport community for the SG Action Plan on Sustainable Transport and the Friends of Sustainable Transport initiative. Mr. Cruz stressed the importance of country support and buy in to the concept of sustainable transport.  He described the role that regional intergovernmental Environmentally Sustainable Transport Forums in Asia, Latin America and Africa can play in strengthening such country buy-in.

The ensuing discussion showed that, while the level of knowledge on sustainable transport varies among the different missions, in general, there was broad support for the ideas presented by the Dutch ambassador. Missions confirmed their interest in further discussing sustainable transport in the context of sustainable development as well as new technologies, capacity building, the relationship between transport and poverty eradication, international trade, and aviation and maritime issues.  There was agreement as well that a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on sustainable transport merits further discussion although as pointed out by Mr. Seth there is a lot of competition when it comes to SDGs.  Also on the suggestion of a UN General Assembly resolution on sustainable transport the consensus was that this merits discussion but that this would take some time to materialize.

After this initial meeting the next step will be to contact interested Missions to move on with the establishment of the Friends of Sustainable Transport group.  It is considered that the next meeting of the group, tentatively planned for January 2013, will focus on the linkage between poverty alleviation and sustainable transport.

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