Readings of President Xi's vision for sustainable transport
Yuan Sha
Ecological city, electric vehicles and charging station. /Getty

Ecological city, electric vehicles and charging station. /Getty

Editor's note: Yuan Sha is an assistant research fellow in the department of American studies at the China Institute of International Studies. A former Fulbright scholar at Columbia University, she has a PhD in International Politics from China Foreign Affairs University. Yuan has published several papers on China-U.S. security relations in Chinese academic journals and regularly contributes to many Chinese media outlets. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference is being held in Beijing, China. With the theme of "Sustainable Transport, Sustainable Development," this Conference is dedicated to seeking global solutions for the global challenges confronting sustainable transport, in an effort to achieve the double goal of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Sustainable transport facing new challenges

Transportation has long played a critical role in people's lives and livelihoods, economic development, social progress and international exchanges. However, the sustainability problem in transportation has become ever more salient.

On the one hand, there is a sustained infrastructure deficit in less-developed world, where deficit in transportation infrastructure hinders movement of goods, services and people, and exacerbated poverty and inequality between and within countries. As the recent floods in many developed countries and the global energy crunch demonstrate, the urgency of sustainable and resilient transport infrastructure has increasingly felt around the world.

On the other hand, the development of transportation has brought negative externalities to the world. In fact, according to Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, the carbon dioxide emissions from transportation account for 24 percent of the global emission. As the world is joining efforts to achieve the Paris Climate Accord, it requires collective actions to address the conundrum between development and fighting climate change.

More disturbingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the vulnerability of transport infrastructure worldwide. It dealt a huge blow to public transit, aviation, tourism and many other related sectors, which aggravated global inequality and harmed disadvantaged groups. The pandemic also incurred other collateral damages in transportation such as port congestion, global supply chain disruptions and labor safety problems, just to name a few. 

Thus, the UN holds the Global Sustainable Transport Conference to raise international awareness and call for international cooperation on the sustainable transport, which is defined as the "provision of services and infrastructure for the mobility of people and goods - advancing economic and social development to benefit today's and future generations - in a manner that is safe, affordable, accessible, efficient, and resilient, while minimizing carbon and other emissions and environmental impacts."

Xi's vision for sustainable transport

Chinese President Xi Jinping presented his vision for sustainable transport at the opening ceremony, which are captured by the five key words in his keynote speech, namely openness, inclusiveness, innovation, green and multilateralism.

A power cable supply plugged in for charging an electric vehicle. /Getty

A power cable supply plugged in for charging an electric vehicle. /Getty

First, he called for adhering to openness and promoting inter-connectivity. He stood committed to an open economy as against the practice of seeking discriminatory and exclusive systems. He then proposed a four-in-one interconnectivity of land, maritime, air and internet, with "hard connectivity" based on infrastructure as well as "soft connectivity" based on rules.

Second, he called for adhering to common development and promoting equity and inclusive welfare. He stressed that common development by all countries is the real development and the pathway to common prosperity, which requires greater investment of transportation infrastructure to least-developed countries and land-locked countries. This idea echoes the Global Development Initiative he proposed at the 76th UN General Assembly this year.

Third, he called for adhering to innovation-driven economy and boosting development. He stressed the importance to develop smart transport and smart logistics, and promote deep integration of new technologies such as big data, internet, AI and blockchain with transportation. He announced to set up a China International Innovation and Knowledge Center for Sustainable Transport, in an effort to better synergize innovation with transport development.

Fourth, he called for adhering to ecology-first and achieving green and low-carbon economy. He pointed out that the long-term solution to sustainable development requires green infrastructure, including new energy, smart, digital and light-weight transportation. He reiterated China's commitment to a high-quality Belt and Road Initiative, especially the Green Silk Road and Digital Silk Road. 

Last but not least, he called for adhering to multilateralism and improving global governance. He reiterated his vision for global governance based on extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefit, and pointed out that sustainable transport is key to the Community of Shared Future for Mankind. He also stressed the support for the international cooperation under the UN on poverty alleviation, public health, transportation and infrastructure. 

President Xi's vision is grounded in concrete actions. China's Ministry of Transportation just unveiled the China Sustainable Transport Development Report, which details China's progress in improving its sustainable transport system, including the development of electric cars, auto-pilot, 5G, smart transportation and shared vehicles, as well as China's provision of global public goods through the BRI. In fact, China has been a leading player of sustainable transport and has much experience to engage with the world on this matter.

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