Transport Infrastructure in Developing Countries: The Sleeping Giant

In order to meet the needs of increasing global demand for mobility by 2050, which will primarily occur within the personal passenger sub-sector, nearly 25 million paved road km and 335,000 rail track km or an approximate 60% increase in 2010 transport infrastructure will be needed . Rapidly emerging economies like China and India are predicted to invest heavily in broadening the capabilities of road and rail infrastructure, with ASEAN, Latin America, and the Middle East also expected to promote land transport investment increases between 2014 and 2050. Overall, the growing passenger and freight mobility needs of non-OECD member developing countries are expected to account for 85% of projected infrastructure additions over the next 40 years, and expenditures on land transport infrastructure are projected to surpass that of OECD members by 2030, for a total of $45 trillion USD total, or 7% of global GDP. Including parking spaces, land transport infrastructure coverage is estimated to be 250,000 km2 (road) and 300,000 km2 (rail), which is an area roughly the size of the U.K. and Germany, respectively. The IEA recommends that policies encourage avoid-shift strategies in order to reduce km travel by 20% in 2050 to meet 2DS goals, and to lessen road infrastructure needs by more than 10 million lane-km through shifts to bus and rail modes of travel and land use changes.


Implementation in many cases will be difficult, given the current circulation of political and social biases that paint low-carbon development as expensive development. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), low-carbon development infrastructure projects count among the least expensive and difficult to implement, and are more appropriate for low-income people in much of the world who already rely on walking and public transport for mobility. ADB published an evaluation of the potential ways to reduce emissions from land infrastructure projects under its funding in 2010, and found that integrated transportation management under the ASI framework could be an economically feasible way to realize co-benefits in human development, pollution, and emissions reduction, particularly since their long-term benefits promise sustainable results.

ADB is also pioneering using emissions calculators and other tools of analysis and visualization to quantify the costs of their projects, a norm that has spread to other regional development and research entities, like the India GHG program affiliated with WRI. A clear and transferrable set of tools for calculating emissions by sector, subsector, and end use is not yet available to the general public, and important figures like transportation per capita emissions by sub-national level are not yet available. As data standards develop in governance, business, research, and development, accessibility to information and to reliable emissions calculators may increase.

Awareness of the benefits that low carbon or low emission development strategies (LEDS) can provide has started to manifest at higher levels of the international development community. Growing acceptance of these concepts in the international development community speaks to the intersect of human development and climate change, which was first addressed in the public forum in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change, and is now an essential part of UNFCCC negotiations (2014). LEDS and low carbon development appear to be a “soft alternative” to implementing GHG emission reduction regulations in some developing countries. Accurate and consistent monitoring and evaluation will present the biggest challenge to the successful implementation of low-carbon construction and planning methods in developing countries, however, and so efforts like that of the ADB to further refine their methods in calculating the “emissions density” of their projects by output, mobility, and investment are important. Currently, ADB has commenced inland waterways, clean bus leasing, sustainable urban transport planning, and railway and logistics efficiency projects in China. Similar projects, which involve BRT, sustainable urban governance and infrastructure planning development, and metro rail projects in Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, and Sri Lanka are also in development by ADB.

Madeline Clark is a second year Master of Global Policy Studies student at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. In the summer of 2013, Madeline acted as a GIS and data management consultant to Nepali NGOs as part of her work with the AidData Center for Development Policy, which works to promote aid transparency at the donor and INGO level. She is interested in the role that data literacy plays in empowering disadvantaged and marginalized communities; natural resource management; International Agriculture and Food Security; and Post-Conflict Development.

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