Taking Action Now

Enabling the transformation of transport

Our Mission

We must address the barriers and blind spots that are holding back action in order to achieve zero-carbon transport by mid-century.

Our analysis has identified six foundational principles for transitioning to a decarbonised transport system in Asia with sufficient speed to avert catastrophic climate change. Building on our foundational principles, six enablers for change can create a fertile environment and strong momentum for transformative policies and strategies. Finally, addressing the identified key blind spots will be important when designing an enabling environment for sustainable, decarbonised transport.

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‘Blind spots’ are issues currently receiving inadequate attention given their potential contribution to decarbonisation. These blind spots require explicit consideration in future policy action.


Freight is the elephant in the room

  • There are a number of blind spots in urban and non-urban passenger and freight transport, where complete sub-sectors are neglected.
  • Many of them relate to areas where action is required by a multitude of actors with a host of small-scale action or careful policy steering, rather than large-scale prestigious investment projects.
  • Addressing non-motorised mobility for freight and passengers, for example, appears to be less attractive to decision makers than building metro lines or supporting cutting-edge vehicle technology.
Sector-based blind spots

A culture of unsustainable options

  • Current policies in most countries in Asia, with some notable exceptions, are still encouraging the use of fossil-fuel based individualised transport.
  • Inconsistent economic and price signals distort the market and increase uncertainty for sustainable investment.
  • Development often concentrates on improving infrastructure for cars. Shifting the focus to a mix of different modes will deliver better mobility and help reduce the negative effects of transport.
  • Uncertainties, such as the extent to which heavy-duty freight can be directly electrified, prevent policies and incentives from being implemented.
  • Policy-based blind spotsa

    The threat of politics and lack of coordination

    • Lack of coordination is one of the key barriers, though it is often overlooked. The result is a fragmented policy framework, often sending contradictory signals.
    • Despite the advantages, there is low engagement with non-government stakeholders and ensuring that the broader public is better informed and understands what is at stake, the choices available, consequences of each measure and options to overcome negative effects of measures.
    • Additionally, there seems to be a preference for large and highly prestigious investment projects, rather than very cost effective, but tedious efforts to optimise existing systems, e.g. through better scheduling of public transport..
    Barrier-based blind spots


    Countries in Asia vary enormously – culturally, economically, geographically and politically. Accordingly, each country needs to elaborate its own set of policy actions to decarbonise the transport sector, considering local contexts, including existing transport infrastructure and services, the size of its cities and prevailing transport modes. However, the Council has developed recommendations that are of a generic nature, so they are generally relevant for the decarbonisation of the transport sector. It is hoped that they inspire countries to reflect on their specific challenges and blind spots.

    Overview of key blind spots

    Foundational principles for transport decarbonisation

    1. The time to transform transport is now.

    Failure to act now will result in high cost from damage, economic disruption, and increased potential for conflict.

    2. Decarbonizing transport is prerequisite for future economic growth.

    The transition to a strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth can address climate change and deliver vast economic and societal benefits.

    3. Only a fair and just transition can succeed.

    Emphasising the creation of a just and equitable transport system will help to ensure broad public support for change.

    4. Zero emissions in transport is necessary by mid-century.

    To achieve full decarbonisation by mid-century, ambitious intermediate targets at the national level are needed.

    5. Leap frogging beyond a car-centered system in Asia can build on existing systems.

    Most countries in Asia are ideally suited to leapfrog to mobility with multi-modal, shared transport systems as a backbone.

    6. Utilising ambitious NDCs and national strategies can help ramp up cooperation.

    Featuring transports explicitly in international commitments can draw the attention of financial backers and technical supporters.



    Developing an integrated national transport vision and strategy for decarbonisation is key

    • A strong vision for a balanced, multimodal and sustainable transport system can provide the guidance necessary for the creation or revision of policies and measures.
    • Such a vision can rally much needed support from a broad set of stakeholders – but only if it is centred around people and developed in an inclusive process.
    • The decarbonisation strategy to be adopted will depend on each country’s starting point, but any sustainable vision must ensure that key blind spots are addressed.

    Adopting a systemic approach will enhance design & implementation

    • Enhanced capacity at all levels, improved information, active participation of stakeholders, a consistent policy framework and the funding to underpin all those activities are vital elements of a successful transformation.
    • Mobility is a crucial foundation for economic activity, and is interwoven in every aspect of our lives, particularly in urban areas. At the same time, available energy sources and land use patterns influence the decarbonisation options that are available. When the complexity of modern societies is carefully considered, policy measures developed in collaboration with relevant stakeholders will deliver synergies.

    Transforming the financing of transport will enable sustainable systems

    • The transformation can only be successful if public budgets are aligned with a net-zerozero-carbon and sustainable transport vision.
    • The transformation can only be successful if public budgets are aligned with a net-zero carbon and sustainable transport vision.
    • Moving from indiscriminate subsidies to targeted support for those in need will support social justice while providing consistent market signals for greater decarbonisation.
    • Internalising the total cost to society, in pricing for different transport modes and fuels will help to steer behaviour towards sustainable solutions.
    • Pandemic recovery spending that is not yet dispersed can help speed up the transition. It

    Creating and communicating locally relevant evidence will motivate and strengthen decision-making

    • Reliable public data and independent expert analysis are an important foundation for informed decision-making.
    • When examining different options using multiple criteria, a lifecycle approach will yield more effective results.
    • Studies that examine all effects of policy measures at the local and national levels can strengthen policy formation.
    • Information campaigns should be launched to disseminate evidence.

    Taking people along is a prerequisite to transforming transport

    • Engaging with a wide set of societal groups from business to civil society will help to better understand the needs and concerns of represented groups and enable the design of appropriate policies.
    • It is crucial to understand the motivations underlying opposition to reform measures, and to develop strategies that allow naysayers to be transformed into advocates for change.
    • Accelerated action and enhanced participation can go hand in hand.

    Collaboration within the Asia region provides opportunities for enhanced action

    • Using international platforms for collaboration and exchange will enhance knowledge and strengthen national strategies.
    • Strengthening connectivity and creating common markets and policies will benefit regional economies and can support national decarbonisation.
    • Regional policy approaches can help overcome national challenges, especially in smaller countries. For example, while regulations on used vehicles may be difficult for small countries to implement, a coordinated regional approach can strengthen the enforcement of used-vehicle rules.



    Transforming transport will not be possible without tackling freight

    Freight transport is projected to be responsible for half of emissions from the sector in Asia by 2050. Despite this, there are still very limited policies in place to address this challenge.

    Solutions to decarbonise freight will vary depending on the national context, but broadly include the logistical optimisation of freight delivery and enabling a shift from road transport to lower carbon modes (water and railways). For urban and short-distance freight, electrification of vehicles is a feasible technical option.

    Some strategies to address this blind spot (more in the report):

    • Ensure that freight is addressed in overall transport strategies as well as NDCs and makes an adequate contribution to GHG emission reductions, including both non-urban and urban freight.
    • Develop or strengthen existing fuel efficiency or greenhouse gas standards for trucks as part of the national freight strategy.
    • Establish or strengthen institutions or departments responsible for freight decarbonisation and promote active dialog between policymakers, freight operators, and business representatives in order to harness the expertise of each group

    Freight and logistics are too complex for any single stakeholder to solve in isolation.

    By Ren Shuai,
    G7 Connect Inc

    Integrated planning will be essential for tapping the full potential of the transformation and managing its complexity

    What we really need is a revolution in urban transport – with improved access, reduced need to travel and a broad mix of clean and convenient mobility options.

    Integrated local and regional transit-oriented planning can foster compact urban areas while reducing travel distances. This will involve integrating land-use and buildings, different modes and technologies for transport, and providing high-quality green spaces.

    Some strategies to address this blind spot:

    • Establish National Urban Mobility Policies (NUMPs) to guide Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) at the local level as instruments to plan for mobility systems, integrated into spatial planning activities.
    • Create national funding programmes for implementing local action.
    • Provide institutional spaces to draw attention to thematic areas such as walking, cycling and freight, but also spaces that foster collaboration and integration between different modes.

    High density transport hubs such as TODs provide an intuitive framework to reduce the carbon footprint through agglomeration of economic activities within a walkable or bicycleable distance and immensely improve quality of life. Zero-emission high capacity modes like metros can provide hub-tohub connectivity creating efficient linear cities. An integrated approach goes far beyond the carbon footprint of the transport sector to help cities achieve their overall zero-carbon goals.

    By Alok Jain,
    Trans-Consult Ltd

    Infrastructure improvements and low-cost solutions can increase overall effectiveness

    Among policymakers there is a strong bias towards new infrastructure projects, despite the tremendous potential to optimise existing systems at a much lower cost. Especially in low and middle-income countries, road and rail systems can be improved through enhanced operations and maintenance, in part thanks to the adoption of modern ICT systems.

    Potential measures in this domain include new speed limits, better coordination between freight and passenger transport providers to improve service quality and maximise capacity usage, and improved traffic management systems.

    For countries with railway infrastructure, existing railway lines can be improved to allow for higher speed travel. Another option is to augment the frequency of train service.

    Some strategies to address this blind spot:

    • Establish multi-criteria assessment as the basis for decision-making for infrastructure project approval; important criteria include lifecycle GHG emissions and the cost of alternative, non-investment solutions.
    • Create space for exchange and cooperation for sectors with a large number of individual operators.
    • Develop multi-modal solutions as a ‘quick win’ for utilising existing infrastructure.

    Consistent policy and price signals are necessary for achieving development and climate goals

    A range of policy instruments influence price formation in markets and thus have a signaling effect for market actors.

    Problems may arise when external costs are not fully ‘internalised’ in the transaction between economic actors, or if price signals have countervailing effects, encouraging contradictory behaviours or technologies. This may lead to wasted public funding or increased uncertainty for investors.

    A careful review and subsequent reform of pricing instruments will help to avoid such conflicting signals and enhance the effectiveness of public spending.

    Insofar as reform entails adverse effects for certain segments of society, one may need to consider targeted relief measures. Such relief measures also require careful assessment, including coordination with affected stakeholders.

    Some strategies to address this blind spot:

    • Develop a knowledge base on the socio-economic costs and benefits of pricing measures and potential reforms, differentiated by stakeholder group in each national and local context.
    • Clearly communicate how the revenues are being invested in sustainable modes of transport or to alleviate negative effects on disadvantaged stakeholder groups.
    • Conduct campaigns that engage individuals at all levels of society in order to raise awareness for the benefits of pricing measures.

    Transport systems need to build on diverse mobility options

    No single project, mode of transport, or technological solution can enable the full decarbonisation of the transport sector.

    Many countries are focusing on a small number of - often technological solutions rather than considering the transport system as an integrated whole.

    To achieve zero-carbon transport, beyond changes to infrastructure and the adoption of clean technologies, passenger and freight transport systems need to become better integrated, and transport demand must be shifted to more sustainable modes.

    Some strategies to address this blind spot:

    • Develop integrated national transport strategies that prioritise greater reliance on renewable energy, and conduct assessments to better understand the benefits of different transport modes and technological options.
    • Consult with the private sector when exploring alternative modes, ideally by establishing dedicated platforms that enable regular dialogue and provide financial incentives when necessary.
    • Support the generation of evidence on the local benefits of multi-modal systems in terms of improved access, equity, economic opportunity, health and safety and reduced congestion, air pollution.

    Discontinue counterproductive and harmful activities

    Introducing new technologies and systems that enable a sustainable transport sector is just one part of the puzzle. We must also discontinue the practices that gave rise to the challenges we face today, including in particular excessive reliance on road infrastructure, privately owned passenger vehicles, and fossil fuel subsidies.

    Just adding new technology and infrastructure to the old system will not deliver the necessary transformation.

    Some strategies to address this blind spot:

    • Conduct a comprehensive analysis of existing policy frameworks and identify policies and regulations that support unsustainable practices.
    • Create incentive structures for government officials that favour the phase-out of harmful activities.
    • Establish regulations that limit harmful activities and creating an effective framework for enforcement.
    Decarbonising transport in Asia: Pillars for action