Transportation key in global Covid-19 recovery: President Xi

Transportation would also need to become greener in order to be more sustainable, said Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Transportation would also need to become greener in order to be more sustainable, said Chinese President Xi Jinping.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday (Oct 14) called on countries to leverage transportation as the key driver of the global recovery from the pandemic and pushed for greater cooperation to ensure more even development.

The pandemic has widened gaps in economic growth, Mr Xi told the second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Beijing via video link.

"It is necessary to give play to the leading role of transportation, better integrate transport in poverty-stricken areas, so that the economy and people's livelihood in poverty-stricken areas have (the support of) infrastructure," he said.

"It is necessary... to provide more support for the construction of transportation infrastructure in the least developed countries and landlocked developing countries," he said.

Transportation would also need to become greener, he said, in order to be more sustainable.

China has set ambitious targets to reach peak carbon output by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2060. On Tuesday, Mr Xi had also committed a 1.5 billion yuan (S$315 million) fund to finance efforts to protect biodiversity.

While it is the world's second-largest polluter, Beijing has been moving towards playing a bigger role as a leader on environmental issues. The latest commitment comes ahead of the global climate summit - COP26 - to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, next month.

On Thursday, Mr Xi also announced the setting up of the China International Sustainable Transportation Innovation and Knowledge Centre to research sustainable global transportation that has low impact on the environment.

China is home to nearly half of the world's electric vehicles and has the world's largest high speed rail network of some 37,900 km.

The country is also an important node in global supply chains such as personal electronics.

The impact of the pandemic and greener transport solutions were a key topic during the conference, which had been pushed back from early last year.

Other leaders dialling into the opening ceremony included Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Over the next three days, participants of the hybrid conference will talk about transport's role in sustainable development. Those speaking at the forum includes Singapore Transport Minister S Iswaran.

In his opening remarks, Mr Guterres said the pandemic has further held back the UN's sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, which were already off track even before Covid-19 hit.

The pandemic has pushed 120 million people into extreme poverty, 160 million into hunger and set back education for about 100 million children, he said.

"We are further from realising sustainable development goals on climate, ocean and biodiversity than... six years ago.

"The door is closing for action on climate, nature and pollution," he added.

In a multi-agency report released ahead of the conference, the UN noted that recovery from the pandemic will present an opportunity for the world to rethink transportation solutions, offering more crisis-resilient and eco-friendly solutions which will both support the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and meeting targets from the Paris Agreement, keeping climate change to below 2 deg C.

In the mid-term, priority lies in helping the transport sector improve its epidemic response and implementing safer working conditions for transport workers including seafarers, many who were hit by Covid-19 outbreaks on enclosed spaces like ships.

"There is an urgent need for transformative action that will accelerate the transition to sustainable transport at the global level," the report said.