Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Report: UNEP Links Economic Growth to Sustainability

Submitted by Jonna McKone on February 22, 2011
City growth patterns. Image from UNEP report, "Towards A Green Economy."
City growth patterns. Image from UNEP report, "Towards A Green Economy."
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a new report that makes the case for investing 2 percent of global GDP into 10 key sectors to propel a transition towards a “low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy ” and catalyze growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. In some cases, “close to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor is linked to nature or natural capital such as forests and freshwaters,” making a compelling case that the perceived trade-off between economic growth and environmental investment just isn’t there. Instead, environmental degradation drains capital from developing countries.
UNEP makes the case for capital resources and development directed at low emissions projects. These activities generate comparable economic gains as the “business as usual” model, but they also reduce the risk and crises inherent in the existing model.
An integrated and multi-tiered effort is needed to increase modal shifts towards sustainable mobility. Graph from the UNEP report, "Towards a Green Economy."
An integrated and multi-tiered effort is needed to increase modal shifts towards sustainable mobility. Graph from the UNEP report, "Towards a Green Economy."
Such a transition can catalyse economic activity of at least a comparable size to business as usual, but with a reduced risk of
the crises and shocks increasingly inherent in the existing model
What were the major messages for transportation?
  1. Present patterns of mobility and transportation based mostly on fossil fuels generate serious social, environmental and economic damage, which can amount to more than 10 percent of a country’s GDP. Specifically the report states that transport uses nearly half of global liquid fossil fuels and causes lost GDP due to air quality emissions. (Transportation accounts for 8o percent of city emissions). Additional economic externalities include 1.27 million fatal traffic accidents and crippling urban traffic congestion.
  2. Vehicle fleet size, if it continues on the current path, will grow from 800 million to between 2 and 3 billion by 2050. Much of this growth will take place in the developing world. Rising wealth will also increase aviation and emissions in shipping.
  3. Promoting access to public transportation, shifting to less energy intensive modes of transport and improving vehicles is necessary to transform the transportation sector.Nothing less than “A fundamental shift in investment patterns is needed,” states the report. The avoid-shift-improve principles include reducing trips through integrated land‑use, transport planning and localised production and consumption; shifting to more efficient modes of transport like public and non‑motorized modes and improving vehicles and fuels to reduce urban air pollution and emissions.
  4. Investment in public transit and greener vehicles generates significant economic returns. States the report, studies show that a sustainable transport sector would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The “reallocation of just 0.16 per cent of global GDP in support of public transport infrastructure and efficiency improvements to road vehicles would reduce the volume of road vehicles” by around 0ne-third by 2050. Such changes could also decrease the use of fossil fuels by up to one‑third. Plus investment in public transit and non-motorized infrastructure generate opportunities for jobs. Additionally, sustainable mobility adds values to regional and national economies.
  5. The growth of green transit must be multi-disciplinary and encompass wide-ranging policy in order to be effective. Policies should promote land-use planning compact cities, ordered around sustainable transport. Other elements to incorporate include the regulation of fuel and vehicle use, financial incentives and priorities for sustainable transport,  information for consumer and industry professionals, wider use of technology as well as building institutional capacity.
Experts from EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, contributed to the transportation chapter in the report. Aileen CarriganDario HidalgoPrajna Rao,Madhav Pai and Clayton Lane contributed to the report.