Transport After Cancun: Now What?
A woman bikes around the Moon Palace Hotel during the COP-16 meeting in Cancun. Photo via

A woman bikes around the Moon Palace Hotel during the COP-16 meeting in Cancun. Photo via

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The Cancun Agreements have been widely praised as a step forward for international negotiations on climate change. Progress was in some ways modest, delaying the biggest questions for the future, like the future of Kyoto Protocol commitments due to expire in 2012. Compared to previous years, though, the transport sector seemed to receive greater recognition for its role in climate change.

Transport is a key part of reaching ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. It is significant that many developing countries made pledges for reducing emissions by 2020. These countries are recognizing that transport is key to achieving sustainable and low-carbon growth, and that economic development is achievable without necessarily increasing emissions.

Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate and Energy Program of the World Resources Institute, summarizes the agreements reached in Cancun: “By consensus, countries agreed to a ‘balanced package’ that includes targets and actions, increased transparency, the creation of a climate fund, and other important mechanisms to support developing countries. Delegations also recognized the urgency of keeping global average temperature below two degrees Celsius, with the ability to strengthen the response in the coming years.”

One key sign of success was an agreement on climate finance. Delegates from developed countries committed to establishing a “Green Climate Fund” to manage and disperse up to $100 billion per year, starting by 2020, to help developing countries adapt to climate change and avoid carbon-intensive development.

However, climate finance “will be only a small part but extremely important percentage of any transport project,” concluded a group of experts at a discussion hosted by the Bridging the Gap initiative about emissions reductions. Other important measures must involve the Avoid-Shift-Improve approach to avoid car use and the need to travel through good land-use policies, shift to more efficient modes like public transport and walking and improve vehicle technologies. And countries must also work to strengthen the coverage of transport in national communications and acknowledge the co-benefits of sustainable transport. (Read the full list of recommendations here.)

However, some think the “political pressure to reduce emissions in the transport sector will probably not increase over the next few years,” according to Jack Short, secretary general of the International Transport Forum (ITF), the transport think tank of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “In practice, carbon constraints will likely not become a defining factor for transport policy for several more years.”

Dario Hidalgo, director of research and practice at EMBARQ (the producer of this blog), is more optimistic.  The fact that the “negotiations seem to be moving forward rather than remaining stalled is an opportunity; the agreements give hope,” he says.

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