Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

7 Nov, 2013

UN’s Asia-Pacific Chief Outlines Five Challenges Facing Region’s Future Transport Needs


Opening Statement by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Forum of Asian Ministers of Transport, Bangkok, 7 November 2013

Just a few weeks ago, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a Dream” speech.

I would like to begin today by sharing another of Dr. King’s reflections. He said: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly”.

This is a message about the strength of connections – the ties and links which together create communities, societies, nations, and regions. It is these connections which allow us to pool our resources, focus our energies, and forge greater prosperity, together.

There is no better embodiment of this connectivity than our roads, rails, shipping lanes, and flight paths. Transport is so much more than just how we connect, it impacts lives and livelihoods, drives growth and development, and provides real opportunities to shift to a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.

It is therefore an honour and privilege to warmly welcome you to ESCAP, the United Nations regional development hub here in Bangkok, for this Ministerial segment of the 2nd session of the Forum of Asian Ministers of Transport.

Taking Stock: Achievements & Challenges

There is a long history of success in Asia-Pacific efforts to enhance regional prosperity through transport. Recognition 20 years ago of the enabling relationship between efficient transport and economic and social development, combined with the fact that trade to and within the region was growing at twice the world average, prompted ESCAP’s member States to launch the Asian Land Transport Infrastructure Development Project.

The aim of the project was to offer a platform for an integrated approach to the delivery of transport infrastructure and services. Your governments lent their wholehearted support to this objective and, to date, the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway networks are remarkable achievements, valuable regional public goods, and strong evidence of closer regional cooperation and integration.

Since the 1st session of this Forum in 2009, five more countries have become Parties to the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway network, and four more to the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Highway network. This commitment to better connections between our countries has been even more evident in your strong endorsement of the process, over the past year and a half, to finalize and adopt the Intergovernmental Agreement on Dry Ports – which we will formally sign later today. In short, transport continues to enjoy significant priority in regional planning and policy-making.

It is time now, however, to focus that priority on ensuring that Asia-Pacific transport is prepared and empowered to meet the even greater development challenges of the 21st century.

Lack of integration between transport modes, and a uni-modal approach to transport choices, still restricts the number of routing options. The transport sector also remains the largest consumer of fossil fuel, and accounts for a quarter of total global CO2 emissions. The persistent lack of harmonization between national laws and regulations keeps transport costs artificially high, and many communities still lack the basic infrastructure they need to expand their economic opportunities. Perhaps most visible of all these challenges – road accidents now represent the ninth leading cause of death in the world, and are already the single biggest killer of people between the ages of 15 and 29.

Five Challenges of Future Transport Needs

All these issues are transboundary challenges, which call for common solutions. They are also very much interlocked. We cannot successfully address the issues of one sector, without simultaneously and holistically addressing the wider human development context. We cannot choose to focus only on growth, without also addressing inequality, environmental protection, and social equity.

Transport continues to play a vital catalytic role, enhancing regional cooperation through greater connectivity, and helping to drive economic growth and trade – which in turn has lifted tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty. But in the race for economic growth and industrial progress, our appetite for transport is growing ever-more voracious. This in turn has created a number of new challenges:

First: The benefits of transport and growth have been uneven. In particular, older and disabled people, economically-disadvantaged communities, and those who live in remote rural areas remain unconnected and deeply vulnerable.

Second: The world population is projected to reach 9.6 billion people in 2050, of whom 5.2 billion will live in Asia and the Pacific. More people need more transport – which means we need to change how we approach this issue, because we cannot simply continue as we have before — neither our people nor our planet can continue to pay the price.

Third: Economic growth has brought affluence for some, but we are already using 50 per cent more resources than the earth can provide, and that by 2030 two planets will not be sufficient to satisfy our needs.

Fourth: As incomes rise, so too does the demand for private transport – which translates into more cars on the roads, and the ever-growing impact thereof on our environment and quality of life. This is especially acute in our region: China has already become the world’s largest market for new cars, and over the period 2007-2012, Indonesia, Thailand and China topped the chart of annualized growth in car sales.

Fifth: Economic growth has been accompanied by rapid urbanization. By 2050, more than 6.25 billion people will live in cities. Put another way, between 2000 and 2050, developing regions could add 3.2 billion new urban residents, a figure larger than the entire world’s population in 1950. If one considers the result of a World Bank study showing that urban areas average roughly 15 times more road length per unit area and seven times more vehicles per kilometer of road, innovative solutions are urgently needed if we are to addressing our multiple development challenges.

Aligning Transport with Sustainable Development

These are some of the reasons why this Forum will, today and tomorrow, feature policy discussions on the theme of “Transport as a key to sustainable development and regional integration”. Your perspectives, guidance, and expertise in aligning the need for increased mobility with the sustainable development agenda, in Asia and the Pacific, will be critical contributions to these discussions.

Transport is one of the fundamental pillars of a sustainable development approach. It structures human geography, impacts the global and local environment, and is located at the centre of economic and social systems.

Land-use planning, better use of urban space, security, congestion, pollution, climate change, and an explosion of demand for mobility are just some of the challenges facing our policy-makers and engineers in the 21st century.

The report by the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Post-2015 Development confirmed the key enabling role of transport in advancing sustainable development, and proposed the inclusion of challenging transport-related targets in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently being negotiated. The draft ministerial declaration, submitted for your adoption at this Forum, reflects your commitments to sustainable transport development through joint actions on these challenges.

You will have noticed that this year, for the first time, the Forum is also hosting a marketplace of transport expertise, and exhibitors from the private sector, development and donor agencies, NGOs and UN agencies are all here to provide a more connected and coherent message about the development of sustainable transport policies.

Launch of the 2013 Transport Review

In this context, the 2013 Review of Developments in Transport in Asia and the Pacific, which I am pleased to be launching today, could not be more timely.

The review examines emerging regional transport trends, and presents initiatives, including those of ESCAP, which are contributing to making transport cleaner, safer, more efficient, and more affordable.

It also provides an update on the status of the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway networks, as well as on our progress in developing intermodal linkages. It describes regional strategies and mechanisms aimed at facilitating cross-border movements, and explores options for sustainable transport systems in urban areas, to reduce pollution, congestion, and road accidents, whilst also meeting the mobility needs of our people.

I know that you will find it informative and a useful reference for your deliberations and work. I also hope that you will use future Reviews as a networking tool, to showcase the initiatives of your governments to improve access while minimizing the negative impacts of transport on society.


In conclusion, I would like to mention that the Theme Study for next year’s ESCAP Commission session is on the subject of “Regional Connectivity for Shared Prosperity.” Within that study, initial findings already indicate a strong correlation between investment in efficient regional connectivity and a more equitable distribution of economic and social welfare.

The study also demonstrates that more sustainable approaches to connectivity, including transport systems, generate wider social and economic benefits, with related projects having an even higher rate of return on investments.

As the international community gradually transitions from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the adoption of SDGs, this Forum provides an opportunity to send a clear message that the governments of Asia and the Pacific are united behind the creation of a dynamic transport sector to connect people with opportunities and to provide renewed impetus for inclusive and sustainable development for the people of our region.

I wish you every success in your deliberations.

I thank you.