Africa urged to follow China’s example and go the greener route

The United Nations’ environment agency has urged African governments to shift policies toward promoting greener modes of transportation, citing the example set by China.

Erik Solheim, the head of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), said air pollution in the continent is the biggest threat from rapid urbanization, adding that governments need to encourage alternative, cleaner solutions that have been successfully implemented in other countries.

“We can learn but not copy,” he said, pointing out that China is building eco-cities and is extensively using electric bikes that provide low-cost, energy-efficient and emission-free transportation.

He was speaking during the five-day Africa Clean Mobility forum, held at the UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi on Wednesday, where experts and policy makers from 42 African countries have gathered to discuss how to promote an environment that enables clean transportation.

Electric mobility was one of the hottest topics of debate at the conference.

“An increase in cars in cities has seen air in major African cities degenerate, thus threatening health and conservation efforts in Africa,” said Solheim.

“We are here to provide a learning platform, to look at countries such as China and India, who are successfully fighting transport emissions.

“India is implementing an ambitious strategy to roll out electric mobility in major cities. This is already happening and what we are looking at is how to bring down the price of this technology.

“Let us not forget that clean solutions present job opportunities for the youth population in Africa. We would like to see homegrown solutions through partnerships with foreign firms. This is the right time for Africa.”

According to Rob de Jong, the head of the mobility unit at UNEP, for Africa to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement it needs to have the right policies for newer vehicles, explore and adopt transport solutions such as electric mobility, redesign transport infrastructure to encourage walking and cycling, and build efficient public transport systems.

“You cannot build your way out of congestion,” said De Jong.

He noted that for the world to cut emissions, transitional and developing countries have to contribute.

“Despite there being no data on African emission levels, it is estimated that transport accounts for more than a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions and is responsible for a large share of urban air pollution,” he added.

Although electric solutions such as buses and motorcycles were explored, challenges such as power-grid capacity limitations were highlighted.

The meeting was a followup to the Africa Sustainable Transport Forum held in Nairobi in 2014, which resolved, among other initiatives, to ensuring a transition to clean fuels and technologies.