Sustainable public transit takes centre stage at UN forum in Seoul

16 March 2010

Transport experts and municipal authorities from major cities across Asia have gathered today at a United Nations meeting in Seoul to examine how a well integrated system of buses, subways and trains can contribute to sustainable development.

The two-day UN Forum on Climate Change Mitigation, Fuel Efficiency and Sustainable Urban Transport takes place at a time when more people are living in cities than ever before, and when more people are looking to own cars.

The meeting also comes as the transport sector is emerging as the fastest growing source of global greenhouse gases – more than 23 per cent of emissions in 2006, according to the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), which is co-hosting the event with the Government of the Republic of Korea, the UN Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), and the Sustainable Low Carbon Transport Partnership Council, which comprises over 50 organizations.

Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change official, has pointed out that given the role that transport plays in causing greenhouse gas emissions, any serious action on climate change will zoom in on the transport sector.

“We cannot continue to keep making the wrong type of decisions,” he told the Ministerial Conference on Global Environment and Energy in Transport (MEET), which met in Tokyo in January 2009, citing as an example car manufacturers actively blocking the introduction of fuel efficiency standards in California, United States.

Mr. de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), noted that several car producers have presented highly efficient show cars with minimal fuel consumption already at the beginning of this decade. “We now need to see these cars on the road, replacing today’s gas guzzlers.”

The meeting in Seoul will feature recent studies showing the benefits of well planned public transport systems, including promoting health, saving time and reducing fuel use.

“It is no coincidence this meeting is being held in Seoul where participants can witness sustainable public transport in action,” according to Tariq Banuri, Director of DESA’s Division on Sustainable Development.

“The 10 million people here in central Seoul have access to a good public transport system, in every respect, and I hope that our participants will see in person how beneficial such an investment can be.”

According to DESA, the key components necessary for viable and sustainable transport systems are financing, technology transfer and capacity building.

Mr. Banuri said there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach or easy solution to address the challenges in urban transport and sustainable development. “Each country and each city will have to formulate its own approach, taking into account local circumstances, conditions and opportunities.”

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