The Review of Sustainable Transport Connectivity in Asia and the Pacific: Addressing the Challenges for Freight Transport is the biennial publication of Transport Division. The edition of 2019 is produced at the three-year mark of the five-year Regional Action Programme for Sustainable Transport Connectivity in Asia and the Pacific (2017-2021). It is focused on assessing the state of transport connectivity in the region and posits that, ultimately, sustainable freight transport cannot be attained in the absence of sustainable transport connectivity. While the Asia and Pacific region has made measurable progress in addressing transport connectivity gaps, the high overall regional performance is driven by a few top performers, thus, hiding significant subregional variations.
The attainment of sustainable freight transport systems represents a significant challenge with multiple technical, operational, and policy aspects. The environmental impact of the dominantly road-centric and fossil fuel dependent freight transport sector under suboptimal connectivity conditions is systematically exacerbating the contribution of the sector to climate change, making the regional transport system more vulnerable to climate and hazard-related disasters and is rapidly placing the region among the highest CO2 emitting regions in the world, especially when taking into account projected growth through 2050. Building on available data and indicators for the region, ESCAP analysis shows that, indeed, intermodality can increase the sustainability of connectivity by reducing transport related CO2 emissions and road traffic crashes, in part owing to expected changes in the modal split. While the flexibility of road transport will continue to place it among the most utilized modes of transport, there is scope for policy instruments to make meaningful interventions in support of greater use of coastal shipping, inland water transport and railways and in support of accelerated decarbonization of road freight transport.
The key drivers of the shift to sustainable freight transport are technology and innovation, private sector engagement and the enabling role of public policy as formulated at the national and regional levels. While technology and innovation will play a key role in the future development of the transport sector, transport policymakers and regulators will also need to focus on new security risks and to the limitations of the impact of technology on the overall sustainability performance.
This analysis lends further support to the established role of ESCAP as an intergovernmental platform for promoting seamless and sustainable transport connectivity through better integrated infrastructure across modes and a more balanced modal split that would enable growing demand to be accommodated on proportionately less infrastructure and fewer transport operations, with materially better service to users and significant energy savings. Transition to sustainable transport connectivity, especially when it comes to freight, is, therefore, seen as a major stepping-stone in moving towards a truly sustainable development.