Representatives from Portugal and Chile highlighted the importance of garnering support from society to make efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions successful. The experiences of both countries provided the topic of the debate at the International Workshop on Transport Decarbonization.
Portugal's Secretary of State and Deputy Minister for Environment José Mendes argued that the discussion should not be limited to technology. “The increase in the market share for public transport is too slow—not just in Brazil, but all across the world. The worst thing we could do in this debate is to stick to technology. We must work to raise awareness and get people involved,” he said.
Mendes believes that an overhaul in the transport paradigm through the reduction of the use of individual vehicles is a goal within our reach. “I believe in humankind and its ability to bring about change. Late in the 19th century, people rode horses to move around. Discussions centered on how to deal with horse dung in the city. By 1910, automobiles had taken over all of mobility. The whole thing changed in ten years' time,” he illustrated.
He explained that the actions implemented by Portugal to cut greenhouse emissions, as set forth in the Paris Agreement, entailed initiatives in both the short and long run. “In a democracy we have assessment cycles, electoral cycles. It's hard to whip up public support for long-term plans, so we're forced to have a combination of long-term goals and short-term quick wins.”
Portugal has invested in initiatives that produce quick results, like expanding Lisbon's and Porto's metro network and offering fiscal incentives to people willing to share their cars and bicycles, Mendes notes. On the other hand, investments are also being brought in for longer-term measures, like the use of electric cars and buses, a plan still in its early stage.
Mendes was a negotiator with the Transport Decarbonization Alliance, launched at the COP23, the latest UN conference on climate change, held in Bonn, Germany. The pact, which also includes France, the Netherlands, and Costa Rica, aims to promote the exchange of experiences and dialog. More countries are expected to join the agreement in the future.
The involvement of the population in the dialog about transport habits was also advocated by former Santiago Mayor Carolina Tohá, co-Chair of the High-level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transportation at the United Nations General Secretary.
She gave an in-depth description of a transport plan for Santiago, implemented under her administration, which left out individual vehicles and prioritized public transport and pedestrians in the downtown area. Tohá believes that the dialog with residents, tradespeople, and entities like the city's Monument Council and the Service for the Disabled played an instrumental role in how the program materialized.
Tohá further mentioned the role of social inequality in urban mobility. “Low-income people are the ones who walk and take public transport the most. The type of transport being invested in says a lot about what social class is being prioritized,” said the former Santiago mayor, who also recommended “replacing the dream of getting a car” with a dream that includes the use of multiple transport modalities.
The International Workshop on Transport Decarbonization is being organized by the Climate and Society Institute (ICS), the Energy and Environment Institute (IEMA), and the German Embassy.
Translated by Fabrício Ferreira