During the lockdown, city- and town-dwellers enjoyed clear blue skies and clean bodies of water thanks to reductions in air pollution and began to hear birdsong owing to lower levels of noise pollution. Pollution levels in Barcelona, for instance, dropped by an estimated 62 per cent. Similar situations have been observed in other big cities such as Milan, London and Paris.
Now, many countries in the UNECE region are starting to reopen and their efforts will be directed towards recovering from the huge socioeconomic impacts of the crisis.
The lockdown has triggered social, economic and cultural lifestyle changes, many of which have had a significant impact on mobility patterns. Active mobility (walking and cycling) – seen as a means of transport that allows for the required social distancing to be maintained – has seen a strong resurgence, particularly through bicycle use, while public transport usage has fallen significantly. To respond to these trends, cities such as Milan, Geneva, Brussels and London have decided to invest in flexible bike lanes. Public transport companies are running reduced services and implementing enhanced cleaning procedures to limit the spread of the virus. In parallel, more people are using their private cars as they provide an escape from the crowds. At the same time, the current crisis gives us an opportunity to reconsider the functioning of the transport sector.
In this context, a return to the mass use of cars will not be sustainable and will not allow governments to meet their sustainable development objectives and the Paris Agreement targets. The transport sector now has the possibility and the obligation to restart in a manner that is conducive to a more efficient, greener, healthier and more sustainable system. In order to do so, a “new normal” needs to be developed to replace “business as usual”.
To respond to these challenges and opportunities, UNECE member States have joined forces to create a task force to develop a set of principles for green and healthy sustainable mobility.
This collective effort is being launched under the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP), jointly led by UNECE and WHO Europe – a unique regional platform for the development of sustainable mobility.
The Task Force will be composed of representatives of member States, international organizations, civil society, academia and other stakeholders. It will develop principles for an environmentally sound and healthy transport system based on sustainability and resilience and will explore long-term and strategic changes for the sector.
THE PEP secretariat will launch a call for experts through its focal points and stakeholders. This work will also be a key part of UNECE activities within the Sustainable Mobility and Smart Connectivity Nexus.
The principles will be proposed for endorsement by member States at the Fifth High-level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment (to be organized in 2021, in Vienna).