Better regional connectivity will help Asia to decarbonise

Improving transport connectivity in Asia in a strategic and well-planned way will enable the continent’s sub-regions to reverse the trend of rising transport emissions while advancing economic development.

This is the core message of a series of three special issues of the ITF Transport Outlook covering Southeast Asia, South and Southwest Asia and North and Central Asia. The reports are a collaboration between the International Transport Forum (ITF) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Modelling potential transport connectivity improvements for Asia’s three sub-regions reveals tremendous potential for decarbonising transport. Despite rapidly growing transport demand, transport CO2 emissions could be cut drastically with the right policies:

  • Carbon emissions from non-urban freight could halve in all three sub-regions by 2050 compared to 2015;
  • Passenger travel in the sub-regions could see its CO2 emissions drop by 15% over the same period.

Reaching such a trajectory requires implementing the ambitious decarbonisation policies assumed in the most ambitious scenario. The reports argue that Covid-19 recovery programmes offer significant opportunities for achieving this objective.

Regional initiatives to leverage pandemic recovery for emissions-reducing connectivity improvements exist. For instance, the “Covid-19 Recovery Guidelines for Resilient and Sustainable International Road Freight Transport Connectivity in ASEAN” (developed by the ASEAN Transport Facilitation Working Group with assistance from ESCAP and the ITF) have identified resilience and decarbonisation as one of three priorities of Covid-19 response-and-recovery policies.

The reports also emphasise that all strategies for better connectivity must recognise, and build upon, the regional and sub-regional specificities:

  • Southeast Asia relies on maritime transport for nearly 90% of freight activity, and without ambitious policies, shipping could see its emissions grow by 76% by 2050. Decarbonising maritime freight will thus be an important priority in this sub-region.
  • South and Southwest Asia faces rapid population growth combined with massive urbanisation. The sub-region’s population will reach 2.5 billion by 2050 (2015: 2 bn), of which almost 1.4 bn will live in cities (2015: 700 mn). This will drive additional demand for transport, already the sub-region’s second-largest Greenhous Gas emitter.
  • North and Central Asia has several landlocked countries and heavily relies on inland transport. To decarbonise successfully, the sub-region must prioritise regional connectivity and more efficient access to markets worldwide. Rich in natural resources, including for energy, North and Central Asia can leverage improvements in its energy sectors to gain competitive and strategic advantages.

The reports support the implementation of the “Regional Action Programme on Sustainable Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific (2022-2026)”, adopted at ESCAP’s Fourth Ministerial Conference on Transport in December 2021. Among the core objectives of the Programme are progress toward efficient and resilient mobility and logistics networks and environmentally sustainable transport systems and services.

The reports also serve as important inputs for the High-level Regional Dialogue on Transport in Asia organised by the International Transport Forum.

The modelling for the three reports was carried out by the International Transport Forum (ITF) with funding from ESCAP as part of its work on transport and trade connectivity in the age of pandemics and promoting a shift towards sustainable freight transport in the Asia-Pacific region.

The reports are available for free download from the ITF website:

Download the ITF Southeast Asia Transport Outlook

Download the ITF South and Southwest Asia Transport Outlook

Download the ITF North and Central Asia Transport Outlook

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