Why aim for sustainable roads in emerging markets?
With climate change likely to impact emerging markets, and given the central role of transport systems and roads in healthy economies and societies, there is a need to improve the sustainability of roads in emerging markets. Fortunately, governments already plan to invest extensively in roads, creating an opportunity for transformation – particularly if technology is more widely adopted to maximise the impacts of that investment. The GI Hub is helping ‘connect the dots’ among governments, technology providers, and investors to scale up technological adoption and seize the opportunity for more sustainable roads.
Below, we outline our work on technologies for sustainable roads, and what you can expect as outcomes from the work.
It’s still true that climate change will impact emerging markets most
Emerging markets continue to be more vulnerable to climate change impacts, because their economies largely depend on natural resources and commercial activities that will be most affected by climate change, and because they have fewer resources and less capacity to respond and adapt.
As climate change progresses, and effects like extreme weather events become more intense and frequent, greater demand will be put on infrastructure systems. In emerging markets, these systems are already stretched to provide basic services like health facilities and clean water.
It’s clear that emerging markets need to rapidly roll out climate-resilient and net-zero-aligned infrastructure. Standard Chartered estimates that emerging markets will need an additional USD94.8 trillion to transition to net zero by 2060. Achieving this will require strategic direction from governments, public-private cooperation, and financing support – all on a global and multilateral level, not only nationally in emerging markets.
Roads remain important, and high planned investment in roads creates a unique opportunity to shape a more a resilient and sustainable system
By increasing mobility, improving accessibility, and connecting industries, roads are fundamental to trade, economic development, social connectivity, and globalisation. Humans have been constructing roads for thousands of years and will continue to build, maintain, and operate roads for the foreseeable future – although how, why, and where roads get built is likely to shift as sustainable development solutions gain traction.
Not surprisingly given the importance of roads for economies and societies, investment in roads continues to be a significant percent of infrastructure investment, especially in emerging markets. Governments invest more in transport over the long term than in any other sector. For 2022, our InfraTracker of government investment in infrastructure shows that G20 economies plan to invest an average of USD72 billion per annum in roads through 2070. USD60 billion of this is in emerging markets.
Meanwhile, the carbon footprint of roads makes it imperative for them to become more green
The transport sector currently accounts for approximately 21% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Much of this comes directly from road transport (passenger and freight vehicles), which accounts for 15% of total carbon dioxide emissions, with most engines still depending on fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel.
The construction and operation of roads is also resource-intensive. Building roads requires materials including bitumen (which is derived from petroleum-based products) and concrete for the road itself as well as bridges, culverts, and drainage.
Although operating road infrastructure has a comparably low carbon impact, there are opportunities to make traffic management and other street infrastructure such as lighting, tolling, and signage more efficient and sustainable. These smart technologies also represent a new investment opportunity of at least USD650 billion globally by 2025.
Technology is already being used to improve roads
Technology developers recognise the opportunity to problem-solve in the roads sector, and the availability of funding for effective solutions. This has translated into a number of technology solutions being available to improve roads. A representative 2020 analysis by the GI Hub found that xx% of technology use cases apply to the transport sector.
The number of technologies available in the start-up environment is extensive, and covers the whole infrastructure lifecycle. For example, inspection of road assets typically requires engineers or on-site personnel to conduct visual inspections. This can be a costly, time-consuming, inefficient, and often unsafe exercise. In India, this challenge is being addressed by NEXCO. NEXCO has developed technology that carries out non-manual inspections of infrastructure such as railway tunnels and building facades, using lasers, 3D cameras, and line sensors. The technology is integrated into vehicles that can collect data whilst the vehicle is being driven (at speeds up to 100 km per hour) to survey road surface properties, tunnel lining surfaces, and overpasses. Data collected can then be used to prioritise maintenance and help inform decisionmaking. This kind of data collection also means that the data are readily digitised and can be easily integrated into systems. A range of other solutions can be viewed in our InfraTech case study library.
Among the solutions available, not all are practical for emerging markets. These markets need technology that is affordable, modular, digital, and/or easily installed. Ideally, the technology should also be able to be operated by individuals with minimal training and should require low levels of maintenance.
Pipelines of sustainable roads technology solutions are important
Currently, many of the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the transport sector rely on existing InfraTech solutions such as renewables technology and zero emissions vehicles. Over time, these infrastructure technologies have continued to become more widespread and affordable. Ongoing investment in breakthrough technologies will enable the transition to net zero, including solutions that are not yet available on the market. IEA estimates that half of GHG reductions by 2050 will be from technology that is still under development or in the demonstration phase, and for the heavy industry and long-distance transport subsectors, there is an even larger development gap.
Maintaining a pipeline of sustainable roads technologies that are in development, being trialled, or ready to be deployed will be critical in delivering on global climate targets and the SDGs. However, building out such a pipeline will require further investment, and support for InfraTech solution providers to overcome challenges such as scalability and replicability. This is why we’ve launched our Call for Submissions for sustainable road solutions. Want to stay up to date on our progress? Sign up to our newsletter for updates to your inbox.