Lessons From China, India, Vietnam on National Transport Ambitions and Accelerating Decarbonization
Hanoi, Vietnam. To transition towards low-carbon transport, investments should flow into sustainable infrastructure like dedicated cycling and walking lanes. Photo: Nathan Cima/Unsplash

In Asia, 14 countries — accounting for 26% of global transport emissions in 2019 — have made economy-wide net zero commitments. Momentum towards zero-emission transport is growing with countries enhancing ambition and including transport-related targets in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). However, the transport sector still needs to catch up with many others, and each country must follow a unique path.

New WRI research assesses how China, India and Vietnam are translating their international climate ambition into national climate change-related transport strategies and policies. Based on a detailed analysis of how each country’s governance structure and policy planning may support or hinder transport decarbonization, an extensive review of literature and policy documents, as well as expert interviews, we have identified seven key opportunities to enhance ambition and implement the policies needed to reach the NDC goals in the transport sector.

1) Align long-term vision with short-term actions in the transport sector.

It will be important to integrate and align transport actions with NDCs, and that NDCs fit into a wider national framework of policies and funding strategies. This offers multiple possibilities, such as increasing stakeholder buy-ins and tapping the potential of climate finance. In Vietnam, the alignment of the country’s NDC with climate change national strategies and action plans has gained support of line ministries and led to the promotion of climate change responses.

2) Ensure transport cuts across all sectors and levels of governments involved.

Identifying or establishing a leading agency can be instrumental in ensuring consistent strategic planning and financing. China’s leading group on carbon peaking and carbon neutrality serves as a formal coordination mechanism. Subnational governments also need support. They must have the capacity, financing and other resources, and information — such as guidelines — to design a mix of policies that respond to local practices and conditions.

3) Leverage multi-stakeholder platforms to enable change.

These platforms can facilitate regular and targeted discussions among public authorities from the transport, climate and energy sectors, as well as representatives from the private sector, academia and NGOs. India’s “Forum for Decarbonising Transport” established by NITI Aayog — a government think tank — is helping to catalyze stakeholder engagement and chart pathways to decarbonize transport.

4) Focus on an equitable and just transition.

An equitable and just transition is vital not only for decarbonizing transport but also for creating a more inclusive and integrated transport system and society for all. In India, women’s labor force participation in the transportation and automotive industry ranges from 5% to 10%. To enhance women’s representation in the electric bus transition, the Indian government is mandating bus procurement tenders with a 25% participation rate from women in roles such as drivers and depot staff.

5) Analyze transport as a complete system and not as a single element.

Globally, while more countries are committing to e-mobility (improve) in their NDCs, emphasis on other transport mitigation actions such as mode (shift) to public transport and active mobility, transport demand management (avoid), supportive land use and freight transport is lacking. Countries worldwide are pinning their hopes on electric and alternative fuel vehicles, but following a more holistic “Avoid-Shift-Improve” (ASI) approach likely offers the best chance for transformative and systemwide change. For instance, rather than focusing solely on replacing fossil fuels with electricity to power passenger cars, the ASI approach might incentivize encouraging travel by electric buses. Successful examples are emerging in Guangzhou, China, where some neighborhoods located near bus rapid transit and metro stops are well-integrated into the urban fabric.

6) Craft a comprehensive policy mix with myriad instruments for e-mobility.

The instruments can be financial such as subsidies or registration rebates, and regulatory instruments such as CO2 standards or low-emission zones. Through a decade’s effort, China has become the largest electric vehicle producer and consumer, alongside the largest charging network. Its rapid acceleration electrification in passenger vehicles can be attributed to a combination of factors: top-down approach with clear targets and policies, national subsidy programs to initiate and grow the market, a mix of regulations including a zero-emission vehicle mandate and license plate registration, among others.

7) Support sustainable financing availability.

Because substantial investments are needed to transition towards low-carbon transport, all financing channels need to be leveraged and directed away from fossil fuels. Financing should flow into sustainable infrastructure such as connected public transport networks and high-quality walking and cycling lanes. India’s aggregated demand model offers one example of how innovative financing helps reduce electric bus procurement costs significantly. Through economics of scale and enhanced contracted terms, the costs of electric buses can be up to 35% lower than the costs of conventional buses.

The first Global Stocktake, concluding at COP28 in December 2023, assesses how much global progress has been made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience and evaluates where more work is necessary to accelerate climate action. Already, the process has resulted in a synthesis report calling for ambition in transport that includes vehicle electrification, shifts to more sustainable modes such as public transport and cycling, and action on aviation, maritime and freight. All will be necessary to move towards fossil fuel-free transport. It is more important now than ever that policymakers reconcile the critical role of transport with the pressing need for climate action and raise their ambitions, particularly in updating the next round of NDCs due in 2025.

This update originally appeared on WRI.org.

Yiqian Zhang is Climate & Electric Mobility Manager at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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