Loss and Damage - Adverse Impact of Climate Change

Many Asian cities are experiencing rapidly increasing motorisation. This leads to a plethora of worsening problems, such as increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, air pollution and traffic congestion. In this context, within the transportation sector, “co-benefits approaches” are attracting a great deal of attention, as they simultaneously promote both climate change measures and measures aiming to achieve sustainable development, while fitting into the framework of attempts to construct sustainable transport infrastructure on a national and regional basis.

We recently spoke with Sophie Punte, Executive Director of the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) Center, which, along with IGES, promotes co-benefit approaches within Asia. She gave us a detailed description of initiatives currently being promoted within the transportation sector, and of issues and problems that have yet to be overcome.

Sophie Punte
Sophie Punte is the Executive Director of the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) Center in Manila. She works with government agencies and other organisations to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport, energy and other sectors, to make Asian cities more livable. Through previous positions with UNEP, an engineering firm and the accounting firm KPMG, she gained extensive experience in energy and GHG management as well as corporate social responsibility with industry in Asia and multinational corporations. Ms. Punte holds a Master of Science (Biology) and a Master of Environmental Management from the Netherlands.

July 2011

Co-benefit Approaches: Building Sustainable Transport Infrastructure

Sophie Punte
Executive Director,
Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) Center

Co-benefits Approach Must be Mainstreamed and Rewarded

--- What are the main factors that could lead to the enthusiastic adoption of co-benefit approaches within the Asian transportation sector?

What gets rewarded gets done. Key decision-makers need to ensure that measuring and promoting co-benefits are rewarded either financially or through recognition, but right now investment costs and financial benefits still dominate decision-making. To change this, co-benefits must be mainstreamed into regular decision-making processes rather than creating a separate mechanism for applying the co-benefits approach. Governments should give co-benefits a bigger priority by including them pro-actively in policies and programmes, for example in national climate change strategies. Development banks and other financiers that carry out feasibility analyses of major transport investment projects should adopt multi/criteria approaches that include co-benefits. On paper this gets done, but in reality requirements to consider other benefits are not enforced. Only when decisions by government, financiers or other players actively take co-benefits into consideration and only when management, staff members and contractors are rewarded for maximising co-benefits, will this approach be taken seriously.

Further Integration of Co-benefits into TEEMP

--- Are transportation projects linked to co-benefits progressing well in Asian cities?

An important point to note is that co-benefits projects in the transport sector are at their infancy and it can only be expected that it will take time to mainstream the co-benefits approach into transport projects. Existing transportation projects linked to co-benefits are mainly driven by CO2 emissions and safety issues and as a result only these two tend to be measured. Air quality, for example, is often at best briefly mentioned and at worst ignored. The same applies to whether transport projects contribute to improving access for poor people. This is partly the result of a single-issue focus of governments and financiers and donors, which in turn is often driven by a narrow mandate, for example a government agency, and by the limited time and resources available to assess projects' feasibility and to then implement those projects. Recently, more attention is given to measuring CO2 emissions from transport projects, and CAI-Asia joined with other partners to develop the Transport Emissions Evaluation Models for Projects (TEEMP) for this purpose. Air pollutants were built into the tool but the challenge now is to further integrate co-benefits into TEEMP while making sure that the tool does not become too cumbersome to apply. If it were easier for users to measure co-benefits alongside the key indicators then the quantification of co-benefits would be significantly improved.

Transport Sector Needs Stakeholder Recognition, Methodology and Data Collection

--- What issues are facing the mainstreaming of co-benefit approaches in the transportation sector?

The first issue is lack of recognition of co-benefits by a multitude of stakeholders. At present, co-benefits are promoted in publications, trainings and conferences, but there is no true reward for applying the co-benefits approach, whether financially or in the form of recognition. For example, the Clean Development Mechanisms includes sustainable development, which essentially is co-benefits, but in practice these are not measured with the same rigor as CO2 emission reductions because a CDM project approval relies little on quantification of co-benefits.

A second issue is that there is a potential trade-off between different benefits. It is often said that improving environmental performance saves money but this is not always the case, and the reality is that the financial argument usually wins unless there is a strong policy that mandates or rewards giving importance to other issues. The increasing importance that is being given to environmental issues, whether CO2 emissions, air pollution or both, is already observed in the industrial sector, especially for multi-nationals, as a result of increased public or customer pressure and stronger government policies, but this has not yet taken hold in the transport sector.

In addition, there is a structural lack in information, data and tools. The amount of time and resources it takes to conduct a quality assessment of co-benefits is in many cases disproportionate to its contribution to the transport project. This could be at least partially addressed by having a methodology to estimate co-benefits, and further investment in collecting relevant data and making these available for feasibility analyses and monitoring of policies and projects.

Regional Collaboration Can Bring Added Value

--- In November 2010, the Asian Co-benefits Partnership was established with the support of various Asian governments and international organisations. What kind of results do you think such regional collaboration can achieve?

The achievement of such a regional collaboration will depend on the “added value” it can provide. The overall aim would be to promote integration of climate change and air quality in policies and programmes, and to promote communication and collaboration between the climate change and air quality communities. The added value a regional partnership can bring is to obtain consensus and support from different institutions, cities and countries in promoting co-benefits, which in essence is about sustainable development that considers economic, social and environmental issues. There needs to be an agreement that there are many important benefits to improving transport systems, and that promoting CO2, for example, while disregarding air quality or safety will not help in good decision-making and thus in achieving sustainable transport.

The joint actions of the Partnership are then focused on filling gaps identified by its members and providing the `glue` between existing efforts, and thereby avoiding the risk of duplication. For example, pilot projects on co-benefits should be done by individual organisations, and the Partnership could add value by reviewing existing transport projects to determine the co-benefits and how these were considered. The same applies to technological inventories. These are really needed but rather than setting up a database on this, a first step would be to review or analyse existing technology databases to determine which ones already bring co-benefits. The Partnership would then focus on communicating the co-benefits found in existing projects and technologies to all communities involved with the aim that these projects and technologies are given more priority in the future. This could be done through the capacity building activities you mentioned (and which are in line with IGES’ experience in holding co-benefits workshops).

--- Thank you very much.

About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES has released “Top News on the Environment in Asia” on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, “Top News” has collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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