‘Change the way we move’: Michelle Yeoh at World Bank 2017 Annual Meetings
Renowned film actress, UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, and road safety advocate Michelle Yeoh spoke at the World Bank Annual Meetings 2017, in a sustainable mobility session on 12 October 2017 hosted by World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva. Michelle Yeoh discussed the central role of mobility for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; the urgent need for new international financing for road traffic injury prevention; the air quality crisis facing the world’s cities; and the campaign for every child’s right to a safe and healthy journey to school. Read her speech below:
‘The World We Want’: These four words powered an incredible and inspirational global conversation.
It was a conversation; and an unprecedented consultation. It took place in schools, workplaces, assembly rooms; in the ‘My World’ survey involving millions of people, and – finally – in New York’s UN negotiating halls.
It resulted in agreement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, this most wonderfully ambitious and progressive vision for our collective future.
A vision reinforced by the Paris Climate Agreement, now ratified by 167 parties. And by the New Urban Agenda, endorsed by governments and cities across the globe.
Climate action. Education. Health. Reducing poverty. A clean environment. Sustainable cities. These are the people’s priorities, this is the agenda we are empowered to deliver.
And what is vital to every one of these objectives? Vital like oxygenated blood is vital for the brain and the heart? The way we move and the air we breathe. In other words – sustainable mobility.
We can’t deliver universal health care without rural roads. We can’t reduce poverty without affordable transport. We can’t ensure education for all if thousands of children are killed by speeding traffic as they walk to school. We can’t talk about equity and justice while women are afraid to use public transport, or walk along their streets, because of male harassment. We can’t build a sustainable urban future if our streets are filled with poisonous air.
So we won’t see The World We Want unless we change the way we move. And this requires a real movement for change.
Change like designing urban streets for communities, not for speeding trucks. Change like ensuring the vehicle emissions tested in the lab bear relation to real performance on the road. Change like providing footpaths and speed humps so kids have a safe journey to school. Change like listening to the 80 per cent of women who say they have been sexually harassed on public transportation…And taking action.
You know, over the past ten years I’ve spoken at a lot of events like this. A lot of well-meaning people in suits. A lot of talk. A blizzard of statistics. Quite a few promises. But not a lot of action.
Road traffic deaths are still rising. We are further away from achieving the SDG target than we were in 2015. Air pollution is blighting lives. Every day 300 million children are breathing dangerously toxic air. The terrible hurricane season and the damage to communities from Barbuda to Houston have given us a taste of our future if we don’t limit global warming. Yet still we talk.
At times like this, I think of the people I’ve met who are waiting for us to act.
People like the mothers lying on floor mats all day and night in hospital corridors, while their beloved children are treated for traffic injuries in overcrowded wards; People like the exhausted trauma surgeon in Delhi, trying to cope with a continuous conveyor belt of customers - delivered to his door by a broken transport system; People like the teachers arriving in school, looking out at their classroom and seeing another empty desk.
Because out there in the real world people can’t wait for our bureaucracy, our prevarication, our revisions of strategy papers, and our excuses. On their behalf, I’m losing patience. It would be a betrayal of their trust and their pain and their loss not to speak out.
So I would like to suggest four concrete actions that our event today could commit to working for:
- One: Supporting a new UN Road Safety Fund, with sustainable revenues from private and public donors to meet the annual 700 million dollars which the UN says we need to fix the global road injury crisis;
- Two: Encouraging the finance and political leadership necessary to achieve the ‘Breathe Life’ objective for every city to meet minimum clean air standards by 2030;
- Three: Building on the important work of the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility by enforcing minimum safeguards for every road infrastructure project to protect all road users;
- Four: Making a genuine effort to deliver on the Habitat III commitment to safe and healthy journeys to school for every child by 2030.
Recently, as an actor, I’ve been spending my working days on Star Trek Discovery. The thing about inter-Galactic space travel is that it provides a sense of perspective. It brings home to me that this world is our home, and we must all do what we can to protect it. And this is not some abstract idea. It is not a CGI backdrop. It is about the real lives of real people. And we are responsible for writing our own script.
So I urge you, as policy leaders, to boldly go further than you have gone before. Let’s make sustainable mobility more than a slogan. Let’s translate it into a real movement for change.
And together we can move towards realising The World We Want.