Tariq Saeedi and Elvira Kadyrova
Ashgabat, 27 November 2016 (nCa) — The First Global Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Ashgabat 26-27 November 2016, accomplished a number of key goals, one of which was to remind that even though some key phrases may lose their shine because of overuse, their importance doesn’t diminish.
The relevant phrase here is ‘Sustainable Development Goals.’ – SDGs.
The conference not only managed – quit successfully – to restore the shine of this phrase, it also highlighted the fact that without sustainable transport, the pursuit of other sustainable development goals would be rather illusive.
This can be understood better if we recall how ‘Our Common Future,’ also known as the ‘Brundtland Report’ defines Sustainable Development:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
- the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
- the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”
This is a tall order and it demands, first of all, the sustainable transport, which is not possible without universal connectivity. — The First Global Conference on Sustainable Transport, referred to as ‘the Conference’ in this report, effectively highlighted this fact.
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, set the tone in his welcome address and opening remarks.
He said, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is our plan for people, prosperity, planet and peace through partnerships.”
He was referring the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) which are otherwise called Agenda 2030.
The UNSG said that the Paris Agreement on climate change had entered into force ‘years before anyone would have thought possible’ and for its implementation there would be the need for sustainable transport.
He called for radical changes in the way we do things today as far as transport is concerned. “On the road to progress, we need to flash a red light to stop business as usual. Otherwise we will continue to pay the high economic and human costs of road accidents, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. And we need to flash a green light to wise investments in innovative technologies that reduce fossil fuel consumption and boost energy efficiency.”
Ban Ki-moon, who was the convener of the last major conference before the end of his tenure as UN Secretary General, said, “Without transport, we would not be here. We all understand its importance. Global trade depends on the world’s roads, rails, waterways and flight paths.”
Shining on the areas where more needs to be done immediately, he said, “We should all be concerned about people who do not have the access they deserve. Sustainable transport is out of reach for too many rural communities. Millions of persons with disabilities cannot use public transportation because it is inaccessible. Older persons struggle to move from one place to the next.”
He said, “Even where transport is available it may not be safe – especially for women and girls, who often rightly fear they may be attacked. Sustainable transport has to answer to the needs of those who have the least. When it does, we can bridge more than physical distances; we can come closer as one human family.”
Spotlighting the main tasks of the conference, Ban Ki-moon said, “This Conference should confront the many challenges to sustainability when it comes to transport. This sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. And that is expected to substantially increase in the future. Without action on the transportation front, we will not be able to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and as close to 1.5 as possible. Transport also has significant public health impacts. Road accidents claim about one and a quarter million lives every year. The vast majority – nine out of ten – are in developing countries. Traffic in cities saps productivity. Transport also contributes to air pollution, which costs more than 3 million lives a year.”
With the formidable challenges in plain sight, the UNSG said, “The answer to these problems is not less transport – it is sustainable transport. We need more systems that are environmentally friendly, affordable and accessible. Technological advances can get us there.”
After summarizing the daunting tasks, the UNSG offered ‘seven ideas.’
Here is what he said:
“First, we need a broad view that resolves interlocking problems of transport with an integrated policy framework. This has to align with the Sustainable Development goals. And it should take account of interactions between different modes of transport.
“Second, we must address the needs of vulnerable countries, including least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states.
“These countries need simplified border crossings and harmonized regional regulations and requirements.
“Third, we should promote better transport systems in cities. That means improving public transport while promoting walking and cycling.
“The new sharing economy is opening the way.
“People can borrow a bike on one side of town and leave it on the other. They can rent a car using an app. Or they can share rides in the same vehicle that normally would take just one passenger.
“Fourth, we have to make all transport systems safe and secure to reach the ambitious target set in the 2030 Agenda calling for access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all.
“Fifth, we need to address the environmental impacts of transport in order to mitigate the impact on climate change and reduce local air pollution.
“I call for bold and innovative steps in re-thinking transport systems, from design, to technology and consumption patterns.
“There are many exciting developments – like electric cars, alternative fuels and new concepts for mass transit systems.
“During my tenure as Secretary-General, I have been impressed by many creative approaches.
“Three years ago, I rode on a bamboo bicycle made by women in Ghana. They gain a profit – and riders get a bike, which never damages the environment.
“Last year, I took a solar taxi to work.
“And just last week, I met again with the pilot of the Solar Impulse, Bertrand Piccard, who is flying this powered plane with nothing but renewable energy.
“There are so many more ideas like these just waiting to be realized.
“Sixth, we need financing.
“It takes investments to see results.
“That means mobilizing funds from a variety of sources and fostering North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation. Public-private partnerships are indispensable.
“Seventh, we have to mobilize all partners by putting people at the centre of transport planning – and by working together. Transport is team work.
“With a broad coalition of governments, international organizations, businesses, civil society and communities, we can make sustainable transport a reality.
Ban Ki-moon said that he received last month the final report of the High Level Advisory Group, a public-private partnership initiative, which he had formed in 2014 to give recommendations on sustainable transport. — “It has one central message: that greater investment in greener, more sustainable transport systems is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said the UNSG.
The UNSG addressed a press conference on 26 November 2016. At the start of his media encounter, he expressed condolence on the sad demise of Fidel Castro Ruz, the former President of Cuba. he spoke in Spanish before switching back to English.
He said that earlier in the day President Berdymuhamedov and he jointly opened the new United Nations House in Ashgabat.
Ban Ki-moon said, “Sustainable transport can help create jobs, cut poverty, open access to markets, empower women and promote the well-being of other vulnerable groups. It is also critical to fighting climate change, reducing air pollution and improving safety on the roads. That is why we see so many dynamic participants here from governments, the private sector and civil society. They are forging partnerships and announcing new commitments.”
He answered some questions on sustainable transport and global transport in Central and Southeast Asia, the Ashgabat process and the Conference’s future.
Here is the transcript of the relevant passages of his press conference:
Secretary-General: Let me answer these three questions. I think all these three questions are about sustainable transport and the significance of the Conference taking place in Turkmenistan.
I briefly said during my opening statement that I first of all appreciate the Turkmenistan Government and the president and the people of Turkmenistan for having organized this very important meeting.
Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals — the 17 Goals in September last year — this is the second major United Nations Conference. The first one was held in Quito, Ecuador, during the month of October, last month, on Habitat. So you see there are a lot of issues involving this Habitat. Then, the second one is transport. Then, the third one will be held in June next year in the United Nations about oceans. You know all the 17 Goals, we are now tackling major issues and this is one of several very important conferences coming, just the second one. In that regard, it has [a lot of] significance politically and economically and I highly appreciate it.
As I said in my statement, this transport system overall takes about 26 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in energy-related sector. If we make our means of transport, modes of transport, sustainable, then we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 30 percent by 2050. So, our vision and our target are very, very clear. In that regard, we hope that this conference will give very clear and concrete target and visions and this is what I am really going to emphasize during this meeting.
The transport system in this area, particularly in Central Asia and Afghanistan — these are mostly landlocked countries and there are a lot of difficulties. In that regard, this is related to the second question, I have already congratulated the inauguration of a railway linkage among Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. This is great, I think it has very important implications for peace and security and not only development. It will create a lot of smooth traffic among people, among goods, freight. It will also have better border controls. You know that there are many security-related crimes in these areas. In that regard, I have already highly congratulated this one. It will take [place] I think the day after tomorrow. Even though I may not be able to participate in this inauguration ceremony, but this is highly commendable.
Now, what kind of process we will have — this can be called the Ashgabat process. As you know, in 2014 I have established a High Level Panel on Sustainable Transport composed of very experienced, highly experienced and visionary leaders and they submitted this report last month to me. It has many very practical and visionary recommendations. The seven points which I have laid out during my opening statement — I hope you will check — these are based on these recommendations. And this Ashgabat process, when this finishes, will play a very important [role]. It will work as a framework, moving together in a sustainable way.
Now, there are 17 Goals, one hundred and sixty-nine targets and many indicators. The United Nations will make sure that all the member states of the United Nations will have a stronger ownership of these 17 Goals. And I can very proudly tell you that the United Nations Country Team, led by our Resident Coordinator, has already been very closely coordinating with the relevant — all the ministries of this country, to have a target-based, indicator-based task force on each goal. So, let us hope that this transport Ashgabat process will make a great contribution to the overall implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
This Conference will also draw attention to the unique needs of the countries in special circumstances, such as least-developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small-island developing states. I think all Central Asia — I think while most of them are middle income developing countries but they are landlocked countries and there are many special circumstances, natural circumstances, which you have to address. Therefore, I am very happy to see that this Conference is taking place at an opportune time.
President Berdymuhamedov, who was the host of the conference, said in his speech that “the dialog on the subjects of development of the world transport assumes more purposeful character at the highest level and new participants as the states, companies, international organizations and institutions are being involved into this.”
He said, “It is obvious that establishment of relative transport, transit and logistic system in the Central Asian and Caspian regions is one of the most important parts of this process. This is about the establishment of ramified, complex and combined infrastructure of transport communications, which cover continental Eurasia with the entry to marine terminals of the Black Sea and Baltic regions, South and South East Asia, Middle East and Asian Pacific regions. On national level, Turkmenistan has already started realization of large-scale programme of establishment, development and modernization of transport infrastructure.”
The Turkmen leader said, “Transport strategy of Turkmenistan is based on the maximum use of geographic advantages, logistic opportunities and infrastructure for establishment of large transportation hubs. Turkmenistan together with its partners implements number of international projects. Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran railway, which was recently put into operation, is capable for transportation of around 10 – 12 million tons per year. The opening of the first part of the railway Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Tajikistan would be held after tomorrow. It will become the part of Asian international transport corridor, which will run through the territories of participating countries and Kyrgyzstan and will connect to ramified railroad network of China and farther to the markets of the Asian Pacific region. The realistic perspectives for direct entry to the Middle East are opened by the project of international transport and transit corridor Uzbekistan – Turkmenistan – Iran – Oman, the Agreement on which was signed in Ashgabat.”
An important breakthrough came when Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif announced that his country had decided to join the Ashgabat Agreement and the Lapis Lazuli Corridor.
The Ashgabat agreement is a transport agreement between Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and seeks to create an international transport and transit corridor.
The objective of the agreement is to facilitate the transport of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor seeks to foster transit and trade cooperation between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey by reducing barriers facing transit trade.
It intends to develop a Custom Procedure Integration in the region.
“I would like to take this historic opportunity to announce our agreement in principle to join the Ashgabat Agreement as well as the Lapis Lazuli Corridor,” said Nawaz Sharif.
“I am positive [the Ashgabat Agreement] will be beneficial not only to Pakistan but also to the entire Central Asian and South Asian region and beyond,” he said.
The Pakistan PM said, “”Through integration of economies, markets and, more importantly cultures, which provide the doorway for peaceful co-existence, I have asked my relevant government ministers to approach the depository countries for an early start of negotiations in this behalf.”
Later in the day, Ban Ki-moon and Berdymuhamedov jointly opened the new United Nations House in Ashgabat.
He said on the occasion, “This new UN House is a great example for other countries around the world,” said the Secretary-General, thanking President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov for his commitment to providing the facility, as well as his support to its maintenance in the coming years.”
Calling the grand structure “a powerful symbol of the strong partnership between Turkmenistan and the United Nations,” Mr. Ban noted that many members of the UN family are working with the Government and people of Turkmenistan: led by the UN Resident Coordinator, together with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), The UN office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International organization for Migration (IOM), UN Women, the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), as well as the World Bank.
“I count on our staff to open the doors of this UN House wide to many partners, especially from civil society,” he said, stressing that by supporting the activities of civil society, securing human rights and promoting fundamental freedoms, “we can realize true progress. This also demands full equality and true empowerment for women and girls.”
President Berdymuhamedov had several bilateral meetings with dignitaries who had arrived to attend the conference.
The scope of the conference goes far beyond its official title. It is not just about sustainable transport; it is fully embedded in to the urgent need to make this planet a better place for all of our future generations. This conference was about sustainability in every area of life.
The economic sustainability and social prosperity is impossible without mobility and sustainable transport.
What is the essence of sustainable transport and connectivity in terms of our ordinary daily life? For the average person, these words – ‘connectivity’, ‘sustainable transport’ may sound like just the phrases for use at forums, conferences, speeches and reports. The true meaning and intended impact may get lost somewhere between the ear and the mind.
Sustainable transport is multimodal combined transport, where the goods and cargo flow easily by maritime, air, rail, and road transport. So, our markets are saturated with new products at affordable costs that have been shipped in the shortest possible time. The effect: economic progress and cash flows into economy and even more – happy faces of ordinary shoppers, enjoying the market sufficiency.
Sustainable transport – smooth passenger traffic. That means the enhancement of tourism. The effect: in addition to the economic benefit, the development of cultural dialogue between nations.
Sustainable transport is the creation of ultra-modern transport infrastructure. The effect: new jobs for all of us, improving the welfare of the peoples.
Sustainable transport envisages thousand kilometers of new railways, built with the participation of nations in the framework of international projects. The effect: strengthening of economic and political relations through these projects, encouraging the relations of fraternity and friendship.
Sustainable transport is safe transport. The effect: Reduction of accidents in each transport sector around the world, so that every traveler would be confident in getting safely at their destinations.
Sustainable transport is green transport, implying the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and promoting further development of environment-friendly innovations and technologies. The effect: clean air, water and soils for all of us –neighbors, living in our common home – the Earth.
Sustainable transport is open ports for developing landlocked countries. That means synchronized and harmonized road, rail freight rules and standards maritime transport, and cooperation agreement linking activities of airlines.
What is required urgently to make the idea of sustainable transport true for all of us?
- True and sincere political will of decision makers – all subjects of the international community. If there is the will, the following actions will not keep waiting. And the First Global Sustainable Transport Conference, hosted in Ashgabat, is a bright manifestation of the political will.
- Investments- investing today into sustainable transport – building railroads, developing ports, opening ports for landlocked countries, construction of high-quality roads will ultimately lead to the well-being of our future generations.
- Willingness to work closely and readiness to ‘doing all the best’ – at the grassroots or downstream level. Initiatives, speeches and promises, voiced at the national leadership level, become a reality thanks to the routine daily activities of downstream actors. Regarding sustainable transport, they include ministries of transport, profile agencies and departments, specialized services, management of ports, airports, transport companies, private sector – all of us from senior officials to loaders and dockers – all those, who shape the partnership at daily basis.
- Review of narrow-ego national interests in favor of a responsible contribution to the common global goals. So, the international community members should open wide doors to closer integration, which is impossible without sustainable transport.
Today humanity possesses all means for wrapping our world with stable communication and transport links. And now the time has come for the international community to stretch the hands of ‘sustainable transport and connectivity’ to each other.