Mobility/Convergence (1). The Climate Imperative

France Paris pollutoin alert - traffic 23mar15

Paris. Pollution alert emergency measures. 23 March 2015

We would be foolish, we would be irresponsible beyond pardon, if we do not start by understanding and accepting that the world climate emergency is the most important single policy issue  of our time.  All of our decisions and actions from this points on must be tempered by the planetary challenges that threaten us today: climate change, resource depletion, and species extinctions.

The climate emergency is here. The period of conceivable doubt is over.  It is real.  It is unarguable.  It is implacable. And it is threatening the near future of our planet. Climate is, or at least should be, the bottom line for all public policy decisions and investments from 2015 on — and certainly for policy decisions and investments in the transport sector which for once is well placed to make  a massive, and quite unexpected, near-term contribution.

The on-going climate emergency sets the foundation, the compass, the map and the timetable for action in our sector. Getting the carbon, and with it fossil fuels, out of the sector is an important goal in any event. But there is far more to it than that.

At the same time GHG reduction works as a strong surrogate for just about everything to which we need to be giving priority attention to matters of mobility, efficiency and quality of life in our cities, chief among them the imperative need to cut traffic and its negative impacts.

Many fewer vehicles on the road moving at lower steady speeds means not only less pollution in all forms, but also reduced resource and energy consumption, fewer lives sacrificed and accidents, greatly reduced bills for infrastructure construction and maintenance, quieter and safer cities, more public space and the long list goes on.

What is so particularly striking about the mobility sector in this context is that there is a huge amount can be achieved (a) in relatively little time. And (b) at relatively low cost.

Moreover, sufficient experience has been acquired in leading cities around the world in the past two decades that we now know what works and what doesn’t.  And why. And how!

Beyond this, there is an important joker which also needs to be brought into the picture from the very beginning — namely that these reductions can be achieved not only without harming the economy or quality of life for the vast majority of all people.

To the contrary, sustainable transport reform can be part of a 21st century economic revival which places increased emphasis on utility, choice, equity, quality of life and a sense of community, and not necessarily on segregation, possession and products.

Mobility/Convergence: Toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities:
The following is one of a set of short working summaries intended for full presentation and discussion in a cycle of international  peer conferences and workshops, with a view to inviting critical comment and feedback on the principal ideas and arguments set out in support of a book in progress under the title: Convergence: Toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities.  A future version of this summary is  to appear in expanded final form as a chapter in the opening section of the book. We enthusiastically invite reader comment and critical views.

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Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at and @ericbritton

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