As the discussion on a new set of post-2015 development goals gathers momentum, I wonder how far the transport sector has got to framing a discussion on transport development in the post-2015 development agenda. The sector was slow in getting transport-related targets into the MDG conversation, so let’s hope there is greater energy getting mobility and access issues on to the agenda this time round.
As far as the discussions on the post-2015 development goals go, they seem to be moving towards integrating the need for sustainable development goals (SDGs) mooted in the discourse following the Rio+20 summit, and the next round of millennium development goals (MDGs). If transport is to feed into this discussion, then I believe that we may need to go back to the fundamentals. Transport is about access and mobility and is a means to an end, whether that end is increasing economic growth or improving peoples’ access to services. In the current post-2015 discussions, the challenge is to develop peoples’ access and mobility in a way that contributes to economic growth(since without growth little can be achieved), considers natural limits (respecting the sustainability argument) and ensures that no one is ‘left behind’ (eradicating poverty). I would say that a post-2015 framework for transport development therefore requires interventions that respect the idea of ‘growth within natural limits’ and ‘equity in access to services and opportunities’.
Role of transport in promoting growth within natural limits
To achieve growth within natural limits requires the promotion of more environmentally sustainable production and consumption systems that do not deplete natural resources at a pace greater than their capacity regenerate themselves, and do not generate waste that is toxic to the environment.
Transport contributes to growth in different ways. It facilitates production and consumption of goods and services (e.g. health and education facilities) by improving access and mobility, and as a sector of the economy in its own right, employing people and providing a service. A transport system that respects natural limits will need to promote low carbon transport technologies that reduce waste and the use of fossil fuels, but would also require different thinking about how transport systems are planned, and how modal choices are made. So it could mean greater emphasis on rail and waterways as transport modes, and less emphasis on road and highway construction, especially through fragile environments; or, even a reorganization of production and consumption so that the need for transport of raw materials or goods is minimized, and essential services are provided closer to where people live.
Role of transport in leaving no one behind
Transport infrastructure and services comprise the system that ensure that women and men access employment and productive opportunities, and services that help enhance their social capital and well being. The current system is not equitable, and despite considerable investment in large scale road infrastructure in most developing countries, isolation has continued to be a factor that contributes to poverty and marginalization. The ability of women and men to access transport services that can give them their much needed mobility, is often constrained by geography (where they live), by physical and social status and by access to political power. And, in many parts of the world, the situation is much worse for women than it is for men. By privileging road transport and motorized vehicles, transport systems have exacerbated these differences.
If transport is to contribute to eradicating poverty in the life time of the current generation, and leaving no one behind, then it needs to provide mobility and access to the very groups that are marginalized by the existing transport system. This would mean shifting the emphasis from developing the major road networks to exploring alternate means of transport, and improving local level transport infrastructure in the rural areas where many of the isolated groups of people live. There should be investment in providing support to the infrastructure and transport service needs of riparian communities, and communities living in remote rural villages, especially rural villages in difficult terrain. The investment could be on dredging waterways, developing landing sites, improving rural roads and pathways, and constructing foot bridges and ropeways. It would also mean ensuring that transport services would be appropriate, affordable, timely and safe to enable children to get to school even if they live far away, or have special mobility needs; pregnant mothers to access health centres for deliveries as well as pre- and post-natal care; young people to access employment opportunities and appropriate training and leisure activities and small producers to have easy access to their production centres and to markets. Transport services could also facilitate the availability of other services to households, including a household’s ability to access fuel and water.
Stand alone Goal for Transport.
There is, I believe, a move to propose a standalone Goal for transport. Not sure this is achievable given that simplicity of design would require the global framework to have a limited number of goals. But were it adopted, then it would require a commitment from governments to a sustainable and equitable transport system (where equitable implies that no one is disadvantaged now, or in the future, by the lack of access and mobility). Such a system is a prerequisite to achieving the other goals, put forward by the UN HLP, the SDSN and the UN Global Compact.