Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Message to COP15 Copenhagen: Think Sustainable Transport

The climate agenda is getting high political and media attention worldwide, and there are many shaping events scheduled for the months immediately ahead. That is good. But in our view the overall agenda for sustainable transport system reform at all levels is timid, incoherent and in large part irrelevant given the real priorities. Well, what is relevant then? How can we link new mobility and climate to get the level of innovation and reform that is critical in the years immediately ahead?

Message to the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009:

- For comment, see below.

“We have to reduce about 80% of our greenhouse gas emissions
over the next 10 to 15 years.”
- President William Jefferson Clinton, in announcing the
Clinton Climate Initiative, Los Angeles, 6 August of 2006

There is a largely unexpected, and to now essentially ignored, synergistic link between the drive for urgent climate reform and the potential contributions of sustainable transportation reform in the two to four years immediately ahead. It turns out that these two most vital policy areas can be made to reinforce each other mutually. This is, we believe, an idea that is, thus far, not very high on the agenda, but one that is well worth exploring. Let's take a first cut at this today to see if by working together we can move it up on the list of priorities for Copenhagen.

Here are an even dozen things we know for sure about transport and climate that we would like to share with you to set the stage on this:
1. Public policy is catastrophically underperforming in terms of technology and human impacts on climate, all sectors in.

2. President Clinton was unquestionably right when three years ago he targeted: “80% GHG reductions . . . over the next 10 to 15 years”. However in the three years since . . .

3. This level of aggressive response has not been broadly picked up by most of the agencies, institutions and interests concerned, the great majority of whom have tilted to a much longer, more leisurely, more passive conversion strategy. (Keynes was never righter in his "In the long run . . ." statement than here.)

4. That is an enormous strategic and moral error, one that that now needs to be corrected as a highest priority.

5. The transport sector, all in, accounts for on the order of 20 +/- 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is thus among the highest priority target for reform.

6. Our sector has one very special characteristic that is not generally appreciated, including by the experts -- and that is that of all the main sectors involved it is the easiest in which to achieve high impact, near term results.

7. This being the case, we propose that immediate near-term sustainable transport system reform be taken a very high priority in the climate policy debate, including among other things since we are well positioned to function as a sort of "learning system" for the rest.

8. Our responsibility in our sector is in the immediate term, i.e., targeting and attaining significant (two digit) GHG decreases in the two to four years immediately ahead.

9. The main instrument of transport system reform lies in the strategic and radical reduction of motorized traffic (vehicle miles/kilometers travelled). This is 100% unambiguous. There is no other path.

10. Based on the results of the last years we are most demonstrably failing in this mission.

11. However, we have over the last several decades, as the result of experiences and achievements in many parts of the planet, learned exactly how to achieve this. This is thus not a case of wishful thinking or playing with uncertainties or pious hopes, but rather a situation in which we can now apply all that we have learned and in the process bringing the many bits and pieces into a coherent strategic policy frame (packages of measures). We can do that!

12. Moreover these sharp and fast GHG reductions will serve us well on many other scores as well (fossil fuel reductions, stronger economies, improved mobility for all, health, life quality, economic renewal, more broadly beneficial technology progress, etc. You know the list by heart.)

The trick is wise governance. The politics of transportation. And that is where all of us here come in. Let us write a joint letter to Copenhagen and all involved, and see if we can get a higher profile for the very short term reforms that we know to be possible in our sector. And so necessary.

In a first instance kindly get in touch either via the Comment section that follows just below or if you prefer in private to editor@worldstreets.org We can then organize it as we have done with the 99 supporting statements that have come in over the last two weeks, and make it broadly known. Our first giant step to Copenhagen and sustainable transport, sustainable cities, and sustainable lives.

# Comments on World Streets COP15 proposal.
# Comments on World Streets COP15 proposal.

Will that work for you? Let us know.

Eric Britton

Some useful references
- United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 (COP15) http://en.cop15.dk/
- Preparatory events: http://en.cop15.dk/calendar
- Copenhagen Agenda for Sustainable Cities (PDF, 2.7 MB)- http://mm.dk/filer/10principles.pdf

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