Opening remarks by Woochong Um, ADB Managing Director General, at the Asia and the Pacific Transport Forum, 14 May 2024, ADB headquarters, Manila, Philippines

Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests, good morning.

Welcome to the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s prestigious Transport Forum. This year, we proudly present our theme: 'Clean Transport for All.' Special thanks to our special Filipino--global celebrity, Apl.De.Ap, for joining us today.

The transport sector has played a crucial role in Asian development for as long as I can remember. This sector is one of the biggest sector (if not the biggest) in ADB’s operations over the years. This means we probably have the highest number of transport engineers and specialists in ADB (or maybe similar in number to the Energy sector), which means, whenever we talk about transport issues, the whole bank rumbles. In fact, the transport sector attracted the two most globally known celebrities from around the world. First is Michelle Yeoh – famous for 007; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Crazy Rish Asians (I am still waiting for the sequel), and Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once. Now we have six-times Grammy Awards winner Apl-De-Ap! Who said the transport sector is boring??

The transport sector was simpler when ADB was established in 1966, as every country needed ADB’s support to build roads. Lots and lots of roads. The word “bitumen” was in everyone’s vocabulary list. But, as the region grew and prospered, the transport issues became much more complex. It is no longer about just building roads. Other issues became much more prominent; e.g., traffic congestion, local pollution, road safety, asset management, of course climate change – both mitigation and adaptation – and more.

Our focus now is not only on moving cars and other forms of vehicles. It is also not only on moving goods and people. We focus now also on shaping sustainable futures for our developing member countries.

As the foremost climate-focused development bank in Asia, our discussions will pivot around transformative strategies for decarbonizing the transport sector. We will also delve into enhancing the climate resilience of our transport infrastructures, aligning our goals with global initiatives such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since its inception in 2008, ADB has proudly hosted the Transport Forum every two years, establishing a critical dialogue platform for the preeminent transport experts and stakeholders across Asia and the Pacific. What began with a modest gathering of a few dozen experts has flourished into the region's premier event, renowned for its rich exchange of global best practices and innovative experiences in the transport sector.

The 2024 Forum sharply focuses on ADB’s instrumental role in leveraging transport as a dynamic catalyst for sustainable development, addressing climate change, and advancing the SDGs. This year, we will expand our discussions to include crucial corporate agendas, such as gender equality, social development, and digitalization. Concurrently, we will engage in detailed discussions on critical transport sub-sectors, including rail, urban mobility, smart transportation solutions, and road system operations – underscoring our commitment to transforming the transport landscape.

The transport sector is a complex web that requires seamless collaboration across different levels of government, various departments and, crucially, between public and private entities. Every decision we make – from selecting modes of transportation to shaping societal behaviors – plays a pivotal role in determining the sector's structural integrity, and overall effectiveness. These choices not only reflect our commitment to sustainability, but also our dedication to evolving the transport landscape into a more efficient, and environmentally responsible, network.

Transitioning to electric vehicles represents a significant step forward, yet this alone is insufficient to tackle broader issues, such as accessibility, congestion, or safety. Our approach must be holistic, incorporating a range of innovative solutions to ensure that our transport systems are not only environmentally sustainable, but also universally accessible and safe.

Unfortunately, the impact of climate change is already profoundly felt, particularly in our region, where we experience a disproportionate share of global infrastructure damage due to natural disasters. This stark reality highlights the urgent need for robust and resilient transport systems that are equipped to withstand future challenges. With natural disasters inflicting over $30 billion in annual losses to the region, it is imperative that we pursue and implement strategies for developing more climate-resilient transport systems, safeguarding our communities and economies against the increasing frequency and severity of these events.

The ADB has positioned itself as the climate bank for the region and committed to provide $100 billion in cumulative climate change related finance up to 2030. I am happy to announce that ADB is well on track for this monumental climate related financial assistance, and that the transport sector accounts for almost half of our climate finance support in recent years.

This week, we will critically assess the current state of transport in Asia through a series of comparisons with global benchmarks:

  • Infrastructure: While Asia is rapidly expanding its road and rail networks, our per capita infrastructure still trails behind that of Europe and North America. Notably, however, Asia is a global leader in the development of high-speed rail and metro systems.
  • Transport Activity: We expect significant growth in freight transport. However, the overall movement within the region still falls short when compared to Europe.
  • Access: Despite notable infrastructure improvements, over 1.7 billion people in Asia still face significant challenges in accessing reliable transport, directly impacting our ability to meet key SDGs.
  • Road Safety: The current statistics are alarming, with high rates of road fatalities and injuries highlighting an urgent need for enhanced safety protocols. Someone dies on Asian roads every 30 seconds.
  • Air Pollution and Climate Change: Our policy interventions have successfully reduced road transport emissions, improving our outlook on transport-related CO2 emissions since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Nonetheless, substantial challenges persist, necessitating continued effort and innovation. ADB’s Green Roads Toolkit, set to launch at this Forum, is a comprehensive guide capturing best practices for designing road projects that align with the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.

This forum also serves as a crucial call to action for escalated investment and the adoption of innovative funding strategies. To bridge the expanding gap in transport infrastructure investment, we are poised to leverage private sector funds and institutional investors more effectively. Our goal is to cultivate a landscape of sustainable transport that delivers extensive societal benefits, aligning with global sustainability targets.

As we move forward, ADB steadfastly upholds our commitment to aligning our initiatives with the Paris Agreement, with the transport sector taking a central role in achieving our ambitious climate finance goals. Our mission is crystal clear: to forge transport solutions that not only lift communities out of poverty, but also catalyze sustainable economic growth across the region.

I urge each one of you to actively participate, exchange knowledge, and gain insights from one another throughout this week’s sessions. By collaborating, we are poised to craft a transport future for Asia and the Pacific that is not only more sustainable and accessible, but also resilient in the face of evolving global challenges.

Thank you very much.