Publication Detail

Transportation in Developing Countries: An Overview of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies


Journal Article

Urban Land Use and Transportation Center

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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel and Deborah Salon (2002) Transportation in Developing Countries: An Overview of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Journal Article UCD-ITS-RP-02-11

This report provides a broad characterization of transportation in developing countries, identifying common challenges and opportunities for policymakers, and suggesting policy options that aim to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

The most important observations of this report are the following:
  • Rapid motorization — and rapid growth in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions — are unavoidable in most developing nations. Most developing countries today have low per capita transportation emissions, largely because few people have access to personal transportation. Rapid motorization is transforming transportation and accelerating increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The relationship between car ownership and income is not fixed. While it is true that income is the primary force of motorization — explaining perhaps half the growth in vehicle ownership — there is much variation in vehicle ownership among cities and countries at similar income levels.
  • Once people have personal vehicles, they use them even if alternative transportation modes are available. This is because the variable cost of operating a vehicle is relatively low compared to the fixed cost of purchasing one.
  • There are many sensible policies and strategies that would slow the growth of transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. Key strategies include increasing the relative cost of using conventional private cars and enhancing the quality and choices of alternative transportation modes.
  • Many of the strategies for slowing and eventually reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have local as well as global benefits. Local benefits include reduced air pollution, less traffic congestion, and lower expenditures for road infrastructure.
This report explores strategic paths and alternative futures that could break the link between economic and greenhouse gas emission growth in developing countries. Successful efforts underway in some developing countries — examples of which are highlighted in some of the case study reports that contributed to this overview — demonstrate that developing countries can forge a more sustainable transportation future. Is there a single city that can be looked to as a model for others? This report suggests that the answer is "no." There are cities and countries that have embraced innovative and effective strategies, but none represents a universally applicable model or pathway.
Published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. (All Pew Center reports are available for download from