Insider Perspective: International Transport Forum 2017

top picture


02 June, 2017


WBCSD insights




This week in Leipzig, Germany at the International Transport Forum (ITF) Summit, business and government leaders gathered to discuss the important changes underway across the transport sector. 

ITF is sometimes called “The COP of Transport” given its ability to attract the key ministers and stakeholders of transport to discuss the current societal changes, technology trends and policy responses.

The theme of this year’s event, “Governance of Transport,” made it clear that government is ready to work with business in creating a fundamental shift in the way that global transport systems operate. In other words, the movement towards sustainable and low-carbon transport is gaining speed.

The appetite for a lower emissions transport system is strong. ITF’s flagship report “Transport Outlook 2017,” outlines how to get to 2050 global transport goals while managing and mitigating CO2 emissions.

Much of the data in the report focuses on CO2 as a unit of measurement for progress and success. This is truly remarkable because, in the past, success has been measured in terms energy balances. Whereas in previous years the focus had been on meeting energy demand, the focus now is on meeting the Paris Agreement targets.

For WBCSD, this illustrates a strong step forward.

At the same time, businesses are also coming on board in pushing for upgrading and modernizing global transport systems. ITF’s corporate partnership board, made up of businesses who want to work with policymakers for transport solutions, has increased from a handful last year, to over 25 in 2017.

The three ‘I’s were discussed from various angles in Leipzig, namely Investment, Infrastructure and Innovation. For each of these areas, business has a strong contribution to make and regulation, legislation and forward-thinking transport policy all have a strong role to play in enabling this.

Momentum is building and the benefits of public/private collaboration continue to hold true. There was much discussion of the need to “move forward in coalitions,” and the value of early-engagement with business, community consultation and support from all levels of government.

In addition to the above, three key themes emerged from the Forum:

The need to understand the implications of autonomous vehicles

The technology enabling mass use of autonomous vehicles is here. It offers cost savings, increases in efficiency and decreases in CO2 emissions. But there are serious drawbacks that need to be explored.

Quoting the latest ITF report “Managing the Transition to Driverless Road Freight Transport,” Peter Bakker said in his intervention, “Over 4 million truck-drivers will lose their jobs across the US and Europe. Two million of these will have little hope of finding another.” Business and government must work together to address these issues to keep the transport transition as inclusive as possible.

The complexity of transport infrastructure upgrades

Many speakers also touched on the fact that transport is a critical enabler of social development, prosperity and economic activity globally. Given this, speakers agreed that we must confront the complexity and manage the transition to new infrastructure and systems seamlessly. José Viegas, the Secretary General of ITF, likened the challenges to “performing surgery on a patient that is not only awake but also walking.” It is not going to be easy.

Despite the challenges, leaders are pushing ahead – both at the city, national and international level.

How to leverage digitization and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (data, data, data)

It was widely acknowledged at the Forum that digital connectivity is a major transport trend. Throughout the Forum, many conversations centered on the fact that businesses and governments alike are still trying to wrap their heads around what the data revolution means for them.

The wealth of new information available is in some ways overwhelming, and leaders from across the board are working to understand it, while examining different ways to leverage digital information for societal and economic benefit.

 WBCSD’s Road Freight Lab is a key example of the possibilities associated with understanding newly available data and technologies, and seeks to help companies seize new opportunities.  Participants at ITF showed a real interest in understanding how this and other innovative solutions can be incorporated in transport planning.

All in all, the Forum highlighted the incredible opportunities for business in the transport systems’ transformation. Companies should get involved early, in order to maximize on benefits. While there’s still uncertainty around how this transformation will take place, now it’s more important than ever for businesses and governments to work together to make the transport transition a smooth one.


Rasmus Valanko, Director of Climate & Energy at WBCSD (highlights) 

Peter Bakker, President & CEO of WBCSD (full session)