The road to the decarbonisation of transport in Africa

Updated: May 17



On Tuesday 10 May, the Climate Parliament hosted a parliamentary roundtable on sustainable transport with Ms Kawtar Benabdelaziz, Transport and Climate Change Advisor for GIZ, the main German international development agency. This meeting was organised in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and with the support of the European Commission (DG INTPA). Our expert first answered questions from Léa Hillaireau, Policy Coordinator at the Climate Parliament, and then engaged in a discussion with parliamentarians from Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia.


Accounting for a third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, the decarbonisation of the transport sector is a crucial part of the energy transition to a cleaner world. Of all the emissions associated with freight transport, road transport is the largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for almost 98% of emissions. Pollution from road transport is responsible for a large share of the negative health impacts of air pollution. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year more than 4 million premature deaths are attributable to outdoor air pollution. The resulting costs are estimated at around 123 billion euros per year for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and over 210 billion for Africa as a whole. In sub-Saharan Africa, between 1990 and 2013, the total number of annual deaths from outdoor air pollution increased by 36%. In addition to the health costs, traffic and road congestion also have a significant economic impact. Investing in the decarbonisation of transport is therefore essential to improving the quality of life of citizens and fostering economic development.


According to our expert, in Africa, 41 countries have weak or very weak regulation on the import of second-hand vehicles, the highest figure among all continents. As a result, almost 40% of all ageing light utility vehicles exported worldwide are shipped to Africa. In some countries, the vehicle fleet is overloaded with worn-out polluting vehicles, sometimes over 15 to 20 years old, which also represent a risk for road safety. To counter this phenomenon, some governments have taken measures to limit the age of imported vehicles; Nigeria has set this limit at 10 years, Senegal and Morocco at 5 years, Gabon at 4 and Algeria at 3. Raising customs duties on used vehicles is also a way of making them less attractive than buying a vehicle from a dealer. Such measures help to stimulate the domestic economic market while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


The transportation sector is challenging but provides many opportunities for Africa to move towards sustainability. While the electrification of the sector is the goal we should aim for, alternative solutions can also help make the sector more sustainable, especially in countries that do not yet have extensive and reliable electricity grids. Urban planning is an important tool in this regard. By allowing people living in the suburbs to have access to the same facilities as in the city centres, by developing the digitalisation of administrative services and by allowing everyone to have shopping areas close to home, we can reduce unnecessary travel while encouraging more active means of transport such as walking or cycling. The State and municipalities can also encourage citizens to abandon individual vehicles by developing efficient, affordable and safe public transport systems.


The parliamentarians asked Ms Benabdelaziz about their role in accelerating the decarbonisation of transport. She insisted on the need to engage in dialogue with all stakeholders in the sector, both public and private, to find collaborative solutions adapted to local realities. In addition to the health and environmental benefits, it is also necessary to communicate and raise awareness on the economic benefits of such a transition, particularly in terms of social inclusion and job creation. in Kenya, for example, according to a recent analysis conducted by UKAid's Manufacturing Africa Programme, the potential revenue for the electric two-wheeler industry is approximately USD 350 million per year between now and 2030. Parliamentarians can also legislate to introduce tax incentives such as exemptions and bonus-malus schemes that favour clean vehicles, and stricter regulations to ban old polluting vehicles. Finally, parliamentarians can encourage their governments to lead by example by developing a strategic vision and investing public money in cleaner State public vehicles..