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.
Questions like these were at the center of discussions at the Fuel Economy Accelerator Symposium held in Paris last week. The event, organized by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), was hosted by the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. I represented the World Bank at this event, which took place on the heels of the UN Secretary General’s upcoming Climate Conference in New York, scheduled for late September. As a result, the topic of the fuel economy and energy efficiency is especially timely and relevant.
Doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030 is one of the three major objectives of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), an initiative led by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank Group. The other two goals by 2030 are to provide universal access to electricity and modern cooking solutions, and to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
If the proven, certified technology is cheap, makes companies more profitable, and at the same time, more green, then why doesn’t every company use it?
This is the mystery that our team now faces in Guangdong Province, China, where we are leveraging a multi-million dollar grant from the Global Environment Facility to support the retrofitting of freight trucks with Smartway (and similarly) verified Green Freight technologies*. These technologies improve the fuel efficiency of trucks, and their costs are recovered through fuel savings – in some cases, in as little as six months. So, the pervasive question – if they are so cost-effective and improve the competitiveness of businesses, why aren’t these technologies used…everywhere?
It is an interesting question, because its answer points us to the broader issue of market barriers in developing countries. How do we identify these barriers, and what is that "spark" that sets market forces in motion?
The transport sector, particularly in developing countries, plays a critical role in global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies – not only because transport sector emissions comprise nearly a quarter of global emissions today, but also because without pre-emptive action in developing countries, transport sector emissions may increase particularly rapidly, and the costs of future retroactive mitigation activities may be prohibitive.