With travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic being gradually lifted globally, many are traveling this holiday season to reunite with family and friends. Transport connects us to loved ones, and it is especially essential in development for linking people with key services and economic opportunities, but it comes with a significant climate footprint.  Domestic and international transport already contribute 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If left unchecked, they could be responsible for 60% of global emissions by 2050. Developing countries, in particular, bear the brunt of negative externalities from transport. Reducing the climate footprint of transport while ensuring that it is meeting the developmental needs of the most vulnerable is, therefore, an urgent priority.

With that goal in mind, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) recently published its first Evaluation Insight Note (EIN), which is focused on the World Bank’s support for decarbonizing transport. The EIN is a new product that IEG has launched in response to the demand for more rapid and focused evaluative evidence to inform the thinking around key development challenges and address knowledge gaps.  

This first EIN explores patterns in the World Bank’s transport decarbonization work. IEG prepared the note in discussion with the Transport Global Practice and drew from a range of sources, including the self-evaluation system of the Bank, project documents, policy and academic literature, advisory services and analytics (ASA), and country strategies.  The note relies heavily on data from the ongoing portfolio since evaluative evidence on transport decarbonization is limited and capturing the latest evolutions is critical to ensuring that the insights are practically relevant.

“Following COP27 there can be no doubt about the Bank’s commitment to increase its support for climate adaptation and mitigation to ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive future,” said Carmen Nonay, IEG Director for the Infrastructure, Finance, Private Sector, and Sustainable Development Department. “This EIN aims to contribute to the Bank’s goal of transitioning to a low-carbon and resilient development pathway for the transport system by highlighting opportunities to exploit for transport decarbonization.”

The EIN finds that the Bank has steadily increased the number of transport projects with decarbonization content, especially in low-income countries (LICs). In the latter, the share of World Bank projects with transport decarbonization activities has increased by 141% from the period between FY08-FY14 to FY15-FY22Q1. The emphasis on low-income settings is especially important because large-scale transport infrastructure projects can lock in car-based and carbon-intensive transport systems that are not easily re­versable.

“Helping countries implement greener, more sustainable transport solutions is at the core of our Global Practice’s mission. We appreciate IEG’s extensive analysis of our decarbonization efforts, which provides key insights and will help us take this work even further. While we have accomplished a great deal – financing modern public transit systems, promoting green logistics, piloting e-mobility projects – more can be done,” noted Nicolas Peltier-Thiberge, Global Director for the Transport Global Practice. “In 2021 at COP26, we established the Global Facility to Decarbonize Transport (GFDT), whose goal is to provide seed resources that can help design a larger portfolio of programs that advance transport decarbonization in developing and emerging economies. This umbrella fund has just accepted its first round of projects. With more funding – and more support from key partners and stakeholders – the GFDT could help introduce the next wave of low-emissions transport solutions in the developing world.”

The World Bank’s transport decarbonization approaches seek to follow what is known as the Avoid-Shift-Improve framework. First, it aims to avoid unnecessary motorized travel for people and goods. Second, it seeks to shift to cleaner transport solutions in its projects, and third, it aims to improve the efficiency of transport infrastructure and services (figure 1).


Figure 1. Transport decarbonization activities as per the Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework

Source: https://slocat.net/asi/

The World Bank has also sought to create a strong knowledge base on transport decarbonization, with the volume of analytical work rising since 2021, especially with the ongoing development of the transport decar­bonization flagship publications. Yet, despite these gains, there remains room for growth. The composition of the transport lending portfolio could shift further to take advantage of more decarbonization opportunities, especially in urban and rail transport. There is a strong rationale to focus on sustainable transport in urban areas as they account for over 70% of all CO2 emissions and a growing share of the world’s population lives in urban areas.

Lastly, the EIN concludes that given that there is limited attention to transport decarbonization in the Bank’s project developmental objectives (PDOs), it is rarely directly measured.  In the absence of a robust system to measure results, the only measure of success is the reasonably good track record of   implementing decarbonization activities and follow-up on prior actions.   

On this and many other key developmental challenges requiring urgent solutions, EINs aim to be a helpful resource that offers the Bank timely evidence drawn from IEG’s extensive body of evaluative work on the factors that contributed to development effectiveness. Future EINs are planned focused on issues ranging from transformational infrastructure projects, food safety and security, and private sector development.