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Asia: ADB Transport Forum 2012: Full Speed Toward Inclusive and Sustainable Mobility

As the urban population of Asia waxes, our director reflects on the ADB Transport Forum. Photo by Flickmor.

“We cannot continue as we are,” echoed the participants at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Transport Forum 2012 held in Manila earlier this month. Demographic trends around the world indicate that 44 million people will move to cities every year. China alone would need to build 3 cities larger than Sydney per year until 2030 to keep pace with its urbanization. Urban and economic growth creates new opportunities for people, however, the pressures of increased motorization and its associated impacts on congestion, pollution, lack of physical activity and GHG emissions require immediate attention: several participants at the forum agreed that business as usual cannot be sustained. It is important to decouple human and economic growth from motorization and environmental damage.

Since 2010, ADB has introduced an operational plan for its landmark Sustainable Transport Initiative, which has gradually effected change in the transport space. This year, another boon to sustainable transport inaugurated the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development: the ADB, along with the African Development Bank, CAF – Development Bank of Latin America, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and the World Bank pledged USD 175 billion over the next ten years to implement sustainable transport globally.

At this year´s Transport Forum the shift away from business-as-usual was made clear. Having attended these meetings in years past, I can feel the change. While keeping important themes for regional integration, like cross-border issues, the rest of the conference evolved and captured the inherent value inclusive and sustainable transport with interesting innovations in style and topics of discussion.

The event was interactive and the audience was asked to vote on the themes discussed; several sessions were dialogues rather than just standard power point presentations and even Elmo made an appearance in the name of road safety. The organizers brought together a whole spectrum of themes: from urban development to mass transit and non-motorized mobility; from south-south cooperation to health, from innovative fuels to rail, and innovative finance. There were a few debates, and we witnessed the video of a “transport modes race”, in which the biker was faster than the mass transit user and even much faster than the car user in Manila, even without adequate cycling facilities (congrats to the brave biker Lloyd Wright).

The tone for the forum was set in the opening speech and continued until the closing panel discussion. In her opening speech, Catherine Cameroon, Director at Agulhas, raised the issue of climate change and how close we are to self-destruction. If the temperature were to increase by 4 degrees, wheat and maize yields would be reduced by 40%, sea levels would increase by as much as 80cm by 2100, rice production would come down by 30% and hottest days would be as much as 6 degree warmer over eastern China. She showed the urgency of the paradigm shift, and called for a revolution to tackling climate change. There was an inspirational keynote speech by Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, showing the change of paradigms in practice with lower cost, rapid implementation projects focused on the pedestrian, the bicyclist, and the user of public transport. This strong sentiment continued until the final panel discussion where participants voted between revolutionary and evolutionary approaches to tackle climate change. While the evolutionary approach was voted as the better approach, the participants also recognized that investing in roads alone would not do. While roads are necessary for freight movement, and to connect rural areas, investments in urban highways are no longer recognized as sustainable (in line with the ITDP-EMBARQ publication “The Life and Death of Urban Highways”.)

EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport, was pleased to be partner with ADB in this important regional event. We participated in the discussions about Road Safety, South-South Cooperation and Urban Development; were able to learn and interact throughout the program with the participants and partner organizations like Ministry of Urban Development, India; CAF Development Bank of Latin America, CAI Asia, GIZ, UNCRD, SLoCaT and ITDP, VTPI, and TRL, among others , and benefited from a training on shared bicycle systems. ADB launched its bike sharing system during the event.
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