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A major African step to make sustainable transport a reality

Roger Gorham's picture
Promoting Sustainable Transport Across Africa

The term “sustainable transport” evokes a wide range of images and perceptions among transport professionals and lay people alike. For some, it means a range of technology solutions – from diesel particulate filters to ebikes, Copenhagen wheels, or buses running on compressed natural gas.  For others, the term can refer to changes in behavior, like improving the way vehicles are maintained or driven, or efforts to carpool.  For yet others, the term implies even more radical changes, like wholesale shifts in the way cities are designed, and/or smart city approaches that use ICT technologies to fundamentally change the way people interact with their surroundings. “Sustainable Transport” can mean any or all these things, including expanding access to transport services in rural areas. 
 
But however the term is interpreted, it is not normally associated with Africa.  Indeed, in many respects, common images of African transport are synonymous with unsustainability – high rates of traffic growth and congestion (even in cities with comparatively low motorization rates), high traffic injury and fatality rates from substandard road safety practices, highly polluting vehicles, minimal formal public transport services, poor enforcement of road worthiness and vehicle overloading– and the list could go on.  
 
It is then very telling that the inaugural conference of the Africa Sustainable Transport Forum took place in Nairobi, Kenya in late October, with not only a great deal of interest but also high-level participation (with delegates from 42 African countries, including 25 Ministers). The conference was hosted by the Kenyan government, with support from the World Bank-led Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The Ministerial portion of the conference was opened by both President Kenyatta and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. 
 
Over three days, technical experts and ministers discussed what transport sustainability means for the continent, resulting in the first ever Sustainable Transport Action Framework for Africa. There were a number of other “firsts” associated with the conference: the first time African transport and environment ministers gathered together to discuss transport issues; the first time that “sustainability”, as a key objective of transport policy in Africa, was the focus of the agenda; and the first time that a Secretary General of the United Nations had ever opened an international conference focused on transport.