Marcos Ribeiro almost has tears in his eyes, as he explains the huge opportunities he sees for modern, ecologically mindful agriculture to us, a visiting World Bank team. The young tropical fruit producer is standing in front of his small farm, some 15 km outside of Palmas, the capital of Tocantins, Brazil’s youngest state.
This blog post was co-authored by Franz Drees-Gross, Director, Transport and ICT Global Practice, and Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice.
Transport in its many forms – from tuk-tuks in Thailand to futuristic self-driving electric cars – is ubiquitous in the lives of everyone on the planet. For that reason, it is often taken for granted – unless we are caught in congestion, or more dramatically, if the water truck fails to arrive at a drought-stricken community in Africa.
It is easy to forget that transport is a crucial part of the global economy. Overall, countries invest between $1.4 to $2.1 trillion per year in transport infrastructure to meet the world’s demand for mobility and connectivity. Efficient transport systems move goods and services, connect people to economic opportunities, and enable access to essential services like healthcare and education. Transport is a fundamental enabler to achieving almost all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is crucial to meet the objectives under the Paris agreement of limiting global warming to less than 2°C by 2100, and make best efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
But all of this depends on well-functioning transport systems. With the effects of climate change, in many countries this assumption is becoming less of a given. The impact of extreme natural events on transport—itself a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions—often serve as an abrupt reminder of how central it is, both for urgent response needs such as evacuating people and getting emergency services where they are needed, but also for longer term economic recovery, often impaired by destroyed infrastructure and lost livelihoods. A country that loses its transport infrastructure cannot respond effectively to climate change impacts.
Climate change is a global challenge that threatens the prosperity and wellbeing of future generations. Transport plays a significant role in that phenomenon. In 2013, the sector accounted for 23% of energy-related carbon emissions… that amounts to some 7.3 GT of CO2, 3 GT of which originate from developing countries. Without any action, transport emissions from the developing world will almost triple to reach just under 9 GT of CO2 by 2050.
The concentration of population in cities and their exposure to seismic hazards constitute one of the greatest disaster risks facing Peru and Ecuador. In 2007, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake along the southern coast of Peru claimed the lives of 520 people and destroyed countless buildings. The most recent earthquake in Ecuador, in 2016, left more than 200 dead and many others injured.
Of course, these risks are not exclusive to Latin America. Considered one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, Japan has developed unparalleled experience in seismic resilience. The transport sector has been an integral part of the way the country manages earthquake risk— which makes perfect sense when you consider the potential consequences of a seismic event on transport infrastructure, operations, and passenger safety.
When you think of Peru, the first city that usually comes to mind is Lima. Why? Well, because Lima is the largest city in the country, with close to 50% of the nation’s urban population living in the metropolitan area; the city also produces 45% of Peru’s GDP. While this level of concentration of population and economic activity may not be a good or bad thing, it points to some imbalances in the urban system in Peru.
NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)
Since the 1980s, investment in Brazil’s infrastructure has declined from 5% to a little above 2% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), scarcely enough to cover depreciation and far below that of most middle-income countries (see figure below). The result is a substantial infrastructure gap. Over the same period, Brazil has struggled with stagnant productivity growth. The poor status of infrastructure is broadly believed to be a key reason for Brazil’s growth malaise.
Disability is a complex, evolving, and multidimensional concept. Currently, it is estimated that 15% of the world population experiences some form of disability, with prevalence rates higher in developing countries. As opportunities for sustainable income generation are directly tied to a person’s access to finance, markets, and networks, persons with disabilities usually face significant challenges in accessing these, due to:
non-inclusive regulations and policy,
lack of resource allocation,
stigma and societal prejudice,
low educational participation, and
inability to access their own communities and city spaces.
What the photographers tried to communicate was a need: both the urgent need for infrastructure that leads to more resilient, sustainable cities, or a need to aspire to greener ideals of building sustainable communities for all.
There is no better day than today, World Cities Day, for us to share with you the 10 finalists – including 3 winners and an honorable mention for climate action – of the photo competition.
In the winning photo by Yanick Folly, one can practically feel the chaos of a city in Benin, the smell of exhaust fumes as cars crawl up alongside motorcycles and pedestrians down narrow alleyways.
Yanick Folly (Benin) – Winner
The photo is also a reminder that cities are made of people. Any set of solutions for “sustainable cities” will have to make sense to a city’s inhabitants, who tread its streets daily.
In other photos, the aspiration is palpable.
Many of the photographers are nationals of developing countries from all over the world. Yet quite a few of them shared photos of cities we regard as environmentally friendly: Singapore, Amsterdam, London, and Paris... We saw many photos of parks in developed countries, and heard the same message: These green spaces and pedestrian walkways are what we want in a city.
Adedapo Adesemowo (UK / Nigeria)
Many photos also reflect the vast difference between the aspirational city, and what most people actually live with.
We received photos of what many of us may categorize as rural areas, but we should reconsider these preconceptions: some “cities” in developing countries are little more than makeshift towns.
So, it is all the more reason why we are excited about this winning photo by Oyewolo Eyitayo from Nigeria. You might think this is an uneventful photograph of a typical urban suburb. Except that the half dirt roads are lined with solar panels.
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.
Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty. Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.
At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.