Profile: Karl Peet ’89, helping cities transition from car-based to public transportation

Getting there from here - Karl Peet ’89 helps cities transition from car-based transport

Karl Peet - HLPF 2017 - Full.jpg

Sustainable transport can mean many things. For Karl Peet ’89, it means ensuring that future generations have access to opportunities and resources that are made possible by multiple forms of mobility.

Based in Chicago, Peet currently works as research director for the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport, or SLoCaT, a global organization with headquarters in Shanghai and staff around the world. The group, according to its website, “is a multi-stakeholder partnership of over 90 organizations that…promotes the integration of sustainable transport in global policies on sustainable development and climate change and leveraging action in support of the implementation of the global policies.” In its work, SLoCaT represents the interests of United Nations organizations, multilateral and bilateral development organizations, NGOs and foundations, businesses, and the private sector. 

“We are not recommending only one solution or strategy,” says Peet, who earned his master’s in public policy and urban planning from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and previously worked on climate issues for the Chicago Transit Authority. “What we are doing is trying to focus these players on a balanced portfolio of mobility solutions through the Avoid, Shift, and Improve framework to avoid unnecessary and lengthy trips, shift existing trips to more efficient means, and improve other trips through technology solutions.” 

The challenge, according to Peet, is how to encourage more walking, cycling, and public transport, including ride-sharing programs. “In the world in general, and the U.S. in particular,” says Peet, “if the car were seen as the mode of last resort as opposed to the default option, that would change things in a big way.” Along with other members of the SLoCaT secretariat and worldwide partners, Peet promotes provision of transport systems that address environmental, economic, and social sustainability. “We look to create systems that mitigate greenhouse emissions,” Peet explains, “and that also are resilient to the current and projected impacts of climate change.” 

Among the projects in which Peet and SLoCaT are involved is the Transport Decarbonization Alliance, which was established at the most recent Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an event that drew 20,000 climate activists to Bonn, Germany. Peet’s personal role at COP23 was to coordinate a team to report specifically on the conference outcomes most relevant to the transport sector. Though the current U.S. administration has pledged to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, Peet is heartened by the number of independent players – organizations, companies, and state governments – who remain committed to keeping the average global temperature within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. 

“The announced intention to leave the Paris Agreement is galvanizing a lot of climate action, both in the U.S. and around the world,” says Peet. “A lot of action and implementation takes place at the local level. What came out of the conference is that we will move ahead; that the momentum for climate action is unstoppable.” According to Peet, the transport sector accounts for roughly a quarter of global emissions. In many countries, transport makes up the largest share; in the U.S., for example, transportation has exceeded energy generation in terms of total emissions. 

“Transport is very decentralized and individual, not just about changing out a power plant, but about changing human behavior and preferences,” says Peet. “It’s fascinating because of that human element. In the end, it’s a personal choice on how people choose to get around.”