“The private sector will be absolutely critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change”

We asked three questions to Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, and one of the speakers at this year’s Volvo Group Sustainability Forum.
Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

How important is transport for the world’s ability to reach the United Nation’s new sustainable development goals?
The transport sector plays an intrinsic role in our lives. It’s how we get to school and work, move goods to market and connect communities. Unfortunately, the transport sector is also a major contributor to climate change and air pollution. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are predicated on the fact that our economies, societies and environment are all fundamentally interlinked. So while the transport sector will continue to be a huge factor in economic development and increasing social equity through improved accessibility and mobility, our task is to consider its environmental implications as well. By developing more efficient transport technologies and systems that pollute less, we can make great strides toward inclusive and sustainable development. UNEP has already been working with industry partners for some time in efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the transport sector through initiatives like the Global Fuel Economy Initiative and the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles.

How vital is the engagement of companies like the Volvo Group to limit climate change?
The private sector will be absolutely critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change. While Governments may set standards and regulations for emissions, it is the private sector that often offers both the research and the financing needed to bring about cleaner technologies. As the world moves inexorably toward a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy, private investments in green technology – especially in the transport sector – are poised to bear fruit. But more than the financial benefits, the active and serious involvement of companies like the Volvo Group in tackling the issue of climate change is an important signal to the world that a sustainable future is the priority of industry. The stimulating effect on other major companies can be just as valuable as the investments themselves.

How important is innovation and new technology in the transport sector to limit climate change?
In Africa, the proliferation of two- and three-wheeled vehicles has been explosive. In Uganda, the growth in use of two-wheelers in the last decade alone has been 150%. Most of the motorcycles imported into Africa have highly pollutive two-stroke engines. With lax emissions regulations, urban centres across the continent are becoming shrouded in air pollution, which naturally has negative consequences on public health and climate change. But the technology is there to replace these dirty two- and three-wheelers with clean electric versions. China has over 200 million of these vehicles on its urban roads, where they’ve all but completely replaced internal combustion versions in recent years. The introduction of cleaner technology in the transport sector can turn a market on its head and reduce its contribution to climate change overnight. GHG emissions of the transport sector are growing faster than those of any other. The contribution of the transport sector through innovation and technology to reduce the impacts of climate change is not only welcomed, but an essential part of the 2-degree scenario to be agreed to in Paris. This means doubling efficiency while continuing to introduce more low- and zero-emission vehicles. This won’t be optional for a 2-degree scenario to be realized, and the role of companies will be critical to achieve this.

About Achim Steiner

Achim Steiner is the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, and a leading global environmental authority. Before joining UNEP, Achim Steiner served as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and as Secretary General of the World Commission on Dams.

About the Volvo Group Sustainability Forum

A few days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, COP21, the Volvo Group gathers leaders and stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society for the annual Volvo Group Sustainability Forum in Stockholm. The Forum is led by Professor Johan Rockström and the aim is to stimulate broader collaboration between business and society to accelerate climate actions.