The Trillion Dollar Question

Tracking Public and Private Investment in Transport

This paper attempts to quantify capital investment in transport around the world. Distinguishing public and private investment at the national and international level is the first step needed to shift investment towards more sustainable, low-carbon modes and systems.


Key Findings

Executive Summary

In a first step to quantify global public and private investment in transport across all modes, WRI estimated annual capital expenditures (excluding consumer spending) at between US$1.4 trillion and US$2.1 trillion annually. In aggregate, this investment consists of slightly more private investment than public. Public investment, at US$569 billion to US$905 billion per year, consists almost exclusively of domestic budget expenditures. In 2010, 2 percent of public investment was international, mostly provided through official development assistance (ODA). Less than half a percent comes from climate-focused funds and institutions. Private investment, including both domestic and cross-border flows, is estimated to be between US$814 billion and US$1.2 trillion per year. About three-quarters of private investment occurs in high-income countries. This working paper sets the stage for analysis on how to shift financial flows to meet transport needs sustainably and with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Although these data are preliminary, we conclude that shifting future transport investment patterns, especially in the rapidly urbanizing and motorizing countries where transport growth is fastest, will depend on leveraging public finance and the establishment of a secure investment climate for private investment. To successfully target future investment in sustainable, low-carbon transport, more research is needed on the relationships among financial instruments, financing sources, and transport modes.

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