The top four transport issues to address at COP27

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Traffic and pollution, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Kim Eun Yeul / World Bank. Traffic and pollution, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Kim Eun Yeul / World Bank.

In November 2022, global leaders will convene in Egypt to mark the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). A COP on the African continent could give countries in the region a much-needed boost on many fronts, including climate finance, adaptation, losses, and damage. Those issues are particularly important to Africa and other developing regions, which have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.

At the time the announcement was made, Egypt said that they would work to make the conference “a radical turning point in international climate efforts in coordination with all parties, for the benefit of Africa and the entire world.”  This ambition resonates well within the transport sector, where we find ourselves at a critical juncture – a defining moment whereby actions within the sector and in related sectors today will have a strong bearing on development and climate change outcomes for years and decades to come.

Recently, the Sustainable Mobility for All partnership convened a roundtable discussion with four country representatives and asked them which priority issues should be voiced at COP27(*) Four topics galvanized the energy:

Stop ‘dumping’ used vehicles in the global South

The dumping of polluting and unroadworthy vehicles in Africa is a major challenge. 40% of the global exports of used light duty vehicles go to Africa, compared with only 2% of new vehicles. Many of them are of poor quality and would fail roadworthiness tests in the exporting countries. An estimated 80–90% of vehicles imported to Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria are used – and this proportion may be even higher in lower-income African countries. A swift transition away from internal combustion engine vehicles in developed countries will mean a flood of unwanted gasoline and diesel cars being exported to Africa—de facto transferring GHG emissions and air pollution from the global North to the global South. In Africa, only South Africa, Egypt and Sudan have banned used car imports entirely.

Make the appropriate e-mobility choices

While the adoption of electric vehicles (cars, buses, vans and trucks) across the globe is gaining steam, that trend has not expanded to Africa, where approximately one in a million vehicles is currently electric. Several factors are at play, including complex demand and supply relationships across the transport and energy sectors. Many countries experience frequent power outages, which would make a switch to EVs impractical.  While the IEA forecasts a doubling of Africa’s power generation capacity by 2040, a surge in EVs will require the sizable reinforcement of distribution networks. Coordination between the energy and transport sectors will be critical.   Moreover, countries will also need to anticipate and make up for the fiscal impact of such a switch (e.g., lower tax revenues from the reduction in import and consumption of fossil fuels). In this context, the promotion of electric two and three-wheelers may be a more appropriate path to address the range of issues associated with the current model of mobility in Africa, including congestion, pollution, and inequitable access, like the experience in China and Vietnam demonstrates.

Let’s talk international cooperation

Most of the upstream capacity to produce e-vehicles, including metals and minerals extraction industry is already in the global South. There is a need to further explore the potential to adopt a home-grown approach to transport electrification, where EVs are produced in African countries using local material and labor force. While moving in this direction will require much more international cooperation, it will ensure the economic benefits of transport electrification are shared equitably between developed and developing countries.

Investment in public transport is the only viable option for cities

Relying on individual cars—electric or not—will not resolve the huge congestion and air pollution problems in rapidly growing cities. The solution to decarbonized mobility goes beyond mere passenger vehicle electrification and requires better urban planning, city reorganization and transit-oriented development. Technology will have a significant part to play, along with simultaneous structural reforms of the transport system to achieve lower emissions and inclusive access. The use of non-motorized transport should also be expanded, with appropriate public investments in walking and cycling infrastructure that can help meet the needs of all users, including the poorest.

This is certainly relevant to the African context, where rising populations are putting pressure on cities and their transport networks. By 2050, 60 percent of the population in Africa will be living in cities. Around US$8 billion dollars a year are wasted in the Greater Cairo Metropolitan Area because of traffic, with expectations that this figure will rise to US$18 billion by the year 2030.  And even though many Africans already use public transport—mostly through the informal sector—only 30% of the national climate change plans produced for COP26 included public transport measures. Creating livable and sustainable cities calls for a much higher level of ambition, especially through adequate investment in high-quality public transport, walking, and cycling infrastructure.

As the COP in Sharm El-Sheikh draws closer, we have a unique opportunity to shape the agenda of the conference and ensure that this COP serves and responds to the needs of the global South and Africa.  While the transition toward low-carbon transport is obviously a priority, we must work together to develop solutions that also meet the other goals of transport, including access for all, efficiency, and safety.

The roundtable discussion which took place on February 15, 2022 was moderated by Dr. Paul Noumba (Regional Director for Infrastructure in the Middle East and North Africa, World Bank) and included Dr. Mona Kotb (Head of Central department of studies & Development, Ministry of Transport, Egypt); Mr. Felipe Ramirez (Secretary of Mobility, City of Bogota, Colombia); Mr. Francis Gitau (Director General, Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Kenya); and Ms. Doris Agbevivi (Coordinator, Drive Electric Initiative, Energy Commission of Ghana). Watch the event recording.


Paul Noumba Um

Regional Director of Infrastructure MENA

Nancy Vandycke

Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and Lead Economist, World Bank

Gurpreet Singh Sehmi

Economist, Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All), World Bank

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