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The transport sector plays a fundamental role in the social and economic development of society. A life without access to modern transport services is next to impossible today. Almost every human activity is linked to the transport sector: connecting students to schools and universities, workers to their workplaces, consumers to sellers or enabling participation in social and leisure activities, to name a few. As the sector is primarily powered by fossil fuels, it is responsible for environmental externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2016, the transport sector was responsible for 25 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, an increase of 71 per cent over 1990 levels, with transport by road responsible for 75 per cent of transport emissions. Apart from greenhouse gas emissions, it also contributes to traffic congestion, noise pollution and road crashes. Rapid economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region in recent decades has resulted in a corresponding rise in motorization and consequently, an increase in the ownership of motorized two- and four-wheeler vehicles, in particular in urban centres. Cities in the Asia-Pacific region are responsible for 75 per cent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is set to increase because of rapid urbanization. In the absence of integrated transport planning and against the backdrop of rising income levels, privately owned motorized two-, and four-wheelers have become the preferred choice for daily transport in many cities in the region. This has put a strain on urban transport infrastructure, which in some cases has shown that it has been unable to keep pace with the increase in private vehicles.

Traffic jams are a daily occurrence in most major cities of the region, presenting policymakers with the challenge of meeting the growing transport needs of city dwellers, while reducing the carbon footprint of the transport sector. As part of efforts towards achieving low-carbon mobility, policymakers are considering a mix of technology improvements and policy measures, such as improving vehicle technology and efficiency; promoting a modal shift from private to public transport and non-motorized transport; and reducing individual travel demand through congestion pricing. Technology plays an important role in the process, as advances in information communications technologies (ICT) have resulted in increased deployment of them in the transport sector. Smart transport systems, including intelligent transport systems, is the umbrella term, which embraces a range of technology applications that integrate drivers, vehicles and transport infrastructure in a way that improves overall transport efficiency. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has defined intelligent transport systems within the scope of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the diverse nature of smart transport technologies: “Intelligent transport systems are an agglomeration of diverse technologies that enhance the sustainability of transport systems in a safer, smarter and greener way.”

Because of various advantages to address traffic issues, improve transport efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, smart transport systems have been adopted for many years around the world. The Asia-Pacific region is not an exception, although the advances in deploying smart transport technologies, in general, are relatively slow and fragmented among countries in the region. Social and environmental needs of such technologies are quite simple; they increase traffic efficiency and safety, thereby mitigating associated negative externalities to society.

Unlike previous studies about smart transport systems, this study was triggered by some fundamental questions: (a) What is the status of nationally determined contributions with regard to the transport sector in the region? (b) Do smart transport systems, including traditional and emerging ones, generate positive benefits to the environment? (c) To what extent can smart transport systems positively affect the environment by focusing on their potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions? (d) From the subregional perspective, what are the tangible benefits of smart transport systems in terms of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions? and (e) To what extent can smart transport systems contribute to nationally determined contributions in the region?

Bearing these questions in mind, this study provides meaningful contributions:

  1. Nationally determined contributions for the transport sector focusing on the Asia-Pacific region were specifically reviewed for the analysis. As of October 2019, 48 ESCAP member countries had ratified the Paris Agreement. A total of 44 nationally determined contributions and eight intended nationally determined contributions have been submitted to UNFCCC by ESCAP member countries, and 38 countries in region have submitted nationally determined contributions, which contain actions intended for the transport sector.
  2. A review was conducted to investigate the benefits from smart transport systems, with a focus on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. More than 100 sources covering various applications were reviewed to identify potential benefits. In addition, extensive cases were reviewed from not only the Asia-Pacific region but from other regions, such as Europe and the United States, to overcome the limitations of just focusing on a specific region.
  3. To attain meaningful lessons learned from the literature review, the overall assessment was conducted from five viewpoints, followed by a review of their limitations. In short, (i) traditional smart transport applications contribute with varying success with regard to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, (ii) although emerging technologies are in the test stage, they are effective in helping to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in various locations, (iii) there are limited sources for reviewing the effectiveness of in-vehicle technologies on the environment, however, eco-driving applications have proven to be effective in decreasing fuel consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, (iv) the magnitude and extent of effectiveness may differ according to smart transport applications and locations where they are deployed, and (v) in addition to benefits for the environment, these technologies also contribute towards the reduction of travel time, traffic stops, crashes and socioeconomic costs, and increase travel speed and user’s satisfaction, among others.
  4. Given that smart transport systems are usually deployed along corridors and/or well-defined areas, within a country or across different countries, the benefits to greenhouse gas emissions from such systems should be investigated from this aspect. As can be seen from the review, an analysis across different countries was not available. Case studies were performed for South-East Asia, and North and Central Asia countries with a focus on the specific corridors across the countries and two major cities from each subregion. Case studies showed that smart transport strategies could provide good B/C ratios (from 2.84 through a freight parking and reservation system to 39.42 through a pre-trip traveller information system).

It is expected that this study could increase the technical capacity of policymakers by providing details on smart transport systems to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it is expected to be a bridge between low awareness and understanding of such systems, and their actual benefits in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will eventually strengthen the technical capacity of policymakers in member countries in the region to use smart transport systems.