The Challenge of Transport in Sub-Saharan Africa

ImageTRANSPORT is a key challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is critical importance to the delivery of sustainable cities, healthy citizens, poverty eradication and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. So how can Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries address the challenge of sustainable transport?

Road safety in Africa as a whole is extremely poor having approximately 3 per cent of the world’s motor vehicles yet accounting for 11 per cent of global road fatalities. Traffic congestion in SSA cities is on the rise with some cities approaching gridlock. The urban populations of SSA are growing rapidly, faster than in all other regions of the world, and this situation is expected to continue over the next two decades.

Urban air pollution in major SSA cities is rapidly worsening due to vehicle fleet growth, increasing distances travelled, and high rates of polluting vehicle emissions from vehicles. Globally, transport accounts for approximately 25 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and reducing emissions from the on-road transportation sector can yield rapid and longer-term climate benefits. Yet published data on traffic congestion, air pollution, including greenhouse gases, and road safety tend to be of poor quality in SSA.

This is an issue which is partly being addressed by the Transport Environment-Science Technology (TEST) Network. A EU funded Network led by the Stockholm Environment Institute Institute and European Institute for Sustainable Transport working in partnership with universities in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The TEST Network aims to support Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries in formulating and implementing sustainable transport policies which contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable economic development.

ImageA new report written by a panel of international experts, examines the transport and environment challenges in SSA countries. The report states that transport policy decisions and the detailed spatial, sectoral and social beneficiaries of transport spending and strategies have a hugely important impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people in SSA.

There are a large number of well documented ways in which we can improve the quality of life of Africa’s citizens. We can improve air quality and public health, remove the scourge and distress caused by death, injury and disability as a result of road crashes and increase the likelihood of widely disseminated economic gains to all sections of society.

In this social-technical-economic complex there are important democratic considerations. What do African citizens want for the future of their families, their communities their regions and their country? Given a choice of living in poverty, pollution, traffic danger and poor quality access to important health, education and training opportunities or living in a thriving, opportunity-rich, clean and safe environment it is already very clear that the latter is preferable to the former.

ImageThe TEST report argues that transport policy for SSA must be embedded in a poverty eradication policy and poverty eradication must deliver real gains in transport as it affects 800 million SSA citizens. This policy synergy provides a huge opportunity to deliver successful outcomes and they will not deliver if they move along in non-communicating parallel tracks.

The report  makes recommendations for the development of sustainable transport policies in SSA based on five central principles:

  1. Maximizing transport accessibility for all social groups, genders and income levels, so that all citizens can access health care, education, training and jobs with minimal effort, costs and journey time;
  2. Creating a safe, secure urban environment with the minimum possible risk of death and injury from road accidents;
  3. Ensuring that all public health measures deal with the debilitating and costly consequences of air pollution on human health;
  4. Freeing up urban road space by improving traffic flow conditions in a way that stimulates economic activity and job creation and avoids the generation of new traffic; and
  5. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

SSA has some very serious transport problems but these present all decision-takers and policy makers with opportunities to re-shape traditional policies to produce a step-change improvement in quality of life for citizens and to deliver the urgently needed poverty alleviation outcomes already agreed.

Policies and interventions can be re-shaped and the task now is to orchestrate the political and professional support and unwavering commitment to deliver all these virtuous outcomes.

© Gary Haq 2012

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What Do Older People Think About The Environment?

We are all getting older. There are now approximately 760 million people globally aged 60-plus compared to just 200 million back in 1950. By 2050 people aged 60-plus are predicted to reach 2 billion people.

We are all getting older. There are now approximately 760 million people globally aged 60-plus compared to just 200 million back in 1950. By 2050 people aged 60-plus are predicted to reach 2 billion people.

Increased lifespan demonstrates the success of modern medicine particularly in developing countries. However, an ageing population will have major implications for health care, pensions and working practices.

An older society will require a cultural change in how we perceive and treat older people and policy makers will need to prepare for the challenges of an ageing population. Not just in terms of need but also the contribution older people can make to society in later life.

Evidence shows that some older people in certain regions of the world can be disproportionately affected by environmental problems such as air pollution, climate change-related heat waves and other natural disasters.

In addition, recent research, surveys and consultations have exposed the missed opportunities associated with the lack of closer engagement of the over 55s in general discussion on environmental issues.

It is therefore important that seniors around the world make their voices heard so that policy makers can take action to better prepare for the needs of an ageing population.

In June 2012 the environment will once again be in the international spotlight as world leaders descend on Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) for the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development or “Earth Summit”.

In an attempt to address the “missing voice” of older people and to encourage wider involvement, an consortium led by the Stockholm Environment Institute is seeking the views of older people around the world on the environmental issues of primary concern and their ideas for tackling them.

This survey is being conducted by an international consortium of older people organisations and universities. The consortium is led by SEI at the University of York (UK) and the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre (Canada) and includes Help Age International, Age UK, Community Service Volunteers’ Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP) and the Council On The Ageing (COTA) – Victoria (Australia).

If your are over 55 then make sure your voice is heard by completing the On-line survey at www.envirosurvey55.com before the 30 April 2012.

© Gary Haq 2012

Co-Benefits of Cutting Black Carbon and Ground-level Ozone

A new UN study highlights the potential benefits of reducing specific air pollutants which not only help to prevent climate change but have a number of positive benefits for human health and agriculture.

If the world is to avoid dangerous climate change and keep a twenty-first century temperature rise below two degrees Celsius or less, it will be necessary to achieve a significant reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide – a key greenhouse gas.

However, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meterological Organisation (WMO) report coordinated by the Stockholm Environment Institute on Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone shows that the measures can reduce near-term climate change and premature deaths and crop loss by taking action to reduce these two pollutants.

Black carbon exists as particles in the atmosphere and is a major component of soot. At ground level ozone is an air pollutant harmful to human health and ecosystems and, throughout the lower atmosphere, is also a significant greenhouse gas. Ozone is not directly emitted, but is produced from emissions of precursors of which methane and carbon monoxide are of particular interest.

Black carbon and ozone in the lower atmosphere are harmful air pollutants that have substantial regional and global climate impacts. They disturb tropical rainfall and regional circulation patterns (e.g. the Asian monsoon) affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.

Black carbon’s darkening of snow and ice surfaces increases their absorption of sunlight which, along with global warming, exacerbates melting of snow and ice around the world. This affects the water cycle and increases the risk of flooding.

Black carbon, a component of particulate matter, and ozone both lead to premature deaths worldwide. Ozone is also the most important air pollutant responsible for reducing crop yields and affects food security.

The UNEP/WMO study calls for immediate action to reduce emissions of black carbon and tropospheric ozone, which have the potential to slow the rate of climate change within the first half of this century.

Climate benefits from cutting ozone are achieved by reducing emissions of some of its precursors, especially methane which is also a powerful greenhouse gas. These short-lived climate gases (e.g. black carbon and methane) only remain in the atmosphere for a short time compared to longer-lived greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide).

The study also highlights how a small number of emission reduction measures targeting black carbon and ozone precursors could immediately begin to protect climate, public health, water and food security, and ecosystems.

The measures include the recovery of methane from coal, oil and gas extraction and transport, methane capture in waste management, use of clean-burning stoves for residential cooking, diesel particulate filters for vehicles and the banning of open burning of agricultural waste.

Full implementation is achievable with existing technology but would require significant and strategic investment and institutional arrangements.

The study claims that the full implementation of the identified measures would reduce future global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius (within a range of 0.2 – 0.7 Celsius). If the measures were to be implemented by 2030, this could halve the potential increase in global temperature projected for 2050 compared to a reference scenario based on current policies and energy and fuel projections. The rate of regional temperature increase would also be reduced.

In addition, implementation of all the measures could avoid 2.4 million premature deaths (within a range of 0.7- 4.6 million) and the loss of 52 million tonnes (within a range of 30.140 million tonnes), 1.4 per cent, of global production of maize, rice, soybean and wheat each year. The most substantial benefits will be felt immediately in or close to the regions where action is taken to reduce emissions, with the greatest health and crop benefits expected.

The study concludes that there is confidence that immediate and multiple benefits will be achieved upon implementation of the identified measures. The degree of confidence varies according to pollutant, impact and region.

For example, there is higher confidence in the effect of methane measures on global temperatures than in the effect of black carbon measures, especially where these relate to the burning of biomass. There is also high confidence that benefits will be realised for human health from reducing particles, including black carbon, and to crop yields from reducing tropospheric ozone concentrations.

While many of the measures identified by the study are already available and being implemented by some countries, a considerable amount of work will need to be done if these measures are to be implemented on a international level.

A government may ban the burning of agricultural waste burning however enforcement of the ban is a different issue. In developing countries where there is limited resources they may not have he man power to enforce such measures the same could be said for the use of cleaning burning stoves.

Fearful that the focus on short-lived climate gases will deter from the current GHG reductions efforts, the UNEP/WMO study warns that deep and immediate carbon dioxide reductions are still required to protect against long-term climate.

The measures identified by the study complement but do not replace anticipated carbon dioxide reduction measures. For major carbon dioxide reduction strategies target the energy and large industrial sectors and therefore would not necessarily result in significant reductions in emissions of black carbon or the ozone precursors methane and carbon monoxide.

As with many environmental problems, we know the cause, we the know the effects and we know the solutions but we are still faced with the barriers of political apathy and public resistance that stifles progress in resolving the problem.

The study clearly demosntrates the benefits of taking action on black carbon and ground-level ozone (and its precursors) have of a number climate change, public health and food security benefits especially in developing countries where health and food are high priorities.

All we need now is to put what we know into practice.

© Gary Haq 2011

A New Age of Green Localism

A greater focus on grass-roots action and ‘green localism’ could re-engage a public that is sometimes disinterested and suspicious of environmental issues.

As the world enters an age of natural resource scarcity and climate change, food and energy insecurity will affect the way of life of local communities.

A greater focus on grass-roots action and ‘green localism’ could re-engage a public that is sometimes disinterested and suspicious of environmental issues.

The notion of ‘decentralisation’ is not a new concept and has been at the heart of the environmental movement reflecting its commitment to localism balanced by global responsibility.

Empowering community groups and strengthening community bonds could deliver multiple social and environmental benefits. People could be encouraged to take action to tackle issues that are local priorities and within their immediate sphere of influence.

There are already many groups and projects that are ‘acting locally and thinking globally’ such as cooperatives, transition towns and neighbourhood schemes. One such initiative is the York Green Neighbourhood Challenge that was undertaken by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York and the City of York Council (UK).

The York Green Neighbourhood Challenge developed a targeted social marketing approach to engage selected areas of the City of York in Yorkshire and work with residents to reduce their carbon emissions.

Using national data on household expenditure and green attitudes as well as data on local infrastructure (e.g. proximity to local services, potential of housing stock for energy conservation and access to transport links), the initiative targeted neighbourhoods which had the greatest potential for behavioural change.

These were York neighbourhoods where households considered themselves to be ‘green’ but had a high carbon footprint.

Six teams from the targeted areas were recruited: three neighbourhoods, two primary schools and one church. Over a six-month period each team was supported by a green mentor. Team members received expert advice on home energy, recycling, travel and other action they could take to meet their target of a 10 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

The participants who successfully completed the challenge achieved an estimated average carbon footprint reduction of 2.0 tonnes of CO2e a year. This is a total reduction of 11 per cent – which equates to an estimated total emission reduction of 98 tonnes of CO2e a year.

The largest reduction was seen in the area of shopping and home energy use.

The initiative demonstrated the benefits of taking a targeted approach in reducing household carbon emission. With support and encouragement residents can saved money, met new people and reduced their environmental impact.

The York Green Neighbourhood Challenge was effective in achieving a statistically significant reduction in the carbon footprint of households. The initiative has provided a legacy of a tried and test model of engagement. It helped to foster community spirit by giving a reason for neighbours to work together. Two of the winning teams have merged to establish one large local community group which is continuing to promote local neighbourhood change.

The ‘York model’ has now been adopted sub-regionally. The North Yorkshire Green Neighbourhood Challenge will work with community teams in seven local authorities in 2011.

People are disillusioned with the broken promises of politicians and the inertia of government in implementing the measures that can guarantee a transition to a low carbon society. A age of green localism will empower individuals to take action to create change at the local level. For many years a handful of doorstep champions have campaigned locally and raised local awareness, there is now a need for more sections of the community to get involved and to help improve the local quality of life and increase feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

More projects such as the York Green Neighbourhood Challenge are needed to encourage and foster local activism. By working in partnership with local authorities and businesses local groups could contribute to building community resilience by becoming more self-sufficient. This would enable local communities to tackle climate change, improve health and well being, secure a healthy natural environment and make their neighbourhoods safer and more cohesive.

© Gary Haq 2011

A Zero Carbon Transport Vision

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

The transport sector has enormous potential to deliver greenhouse gas reductions. However, just how much can we reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport?

Transport offers many benefits in terms of freedom, independent mobility and accessibility. Yet this comes at a cost such as air polluting emissions which contribute to local air pollution and climate change.

There are two key challenges that require the reduction of oil use within transport and resulting carbon dioxide emissions to be kept to an absolute minimum. Firstly, transport is extremely dependent on oil and there is a likelihood that there will be not be much oil left in 2050 compared to today. Secondly, climate change rises important issues around re-engineering transport systems so that they are less vulnerable to the damaging consequences of climate change and can play a full role in reducing greenhouse gases.

A number of studies have attempted to look at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector. These include the OECD Environmentally Sustainable Transport study(2002), Visioning and Backcasting for UK Transport Policy study (2007) and the Campaign for Better Transport study on a Low Carbon UK Transport Policy (2008).

A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has outlined how a phased programme of technological, financial and behavioural changes could secure the potential cuts in carbon dioxide emissions compared to a business-as-usual approach:
• 100 per cent in road transport (cars and lorries)
• 100 per cent in rail transport
• 56 per cent in aviation
• 49 per cent in shipping

Under this programme road transport will be completely carbon neutral by 2050 due to a combination of reduced demand (approximately 75 per cent from spatial, fiscal and behavioural measures), and a whole-scale shift in technology to plug-in electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, both of which will utilise decarbonised UK electricity supply.

Clearly, a carbon neutral electricity supply would be much more likely to be able to meet the increased needs of road transport sector entirely composed of plug-in electric vehicles and/or hydrogen cells. The measure causing the greatest reduction in demand is the annual increase in fuel costs due to the re-introduction of a fuel price escalator.

With regard to rail, all passenger and freight will be powered by 100 per cent electricity that is carbon neutral.

Carbon dioxide emissions of from aviation will be reduced by 59 per cent, which represents a significant progress in bringing aviation in line with the implications of the UK national commitment to an 80 per cent reduction by 2050 compared to 1990. However, the scale of the reduction is still not enough despite the applications of measures.

It is clear that a combination of measures to reduce demand such as air increases, no additional runways, modal shift to railways (High Speed Train) and video substitution would deliver a considerably greater reduction than could be achieved by advances in aircraft technology and air traffic management alone. It follows that a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from aviation of this scale could not be delivered by policy that encouraged technological solutions alone whist allowing demand to continue to grow.

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping will be reduced by 49 per cent through changes in ship size, routing, fuel, speed and a number of other promising technologies have been assumed.

Although road and rail transport could both achieve the zero carbon dioxide emissions target, emissions from aviation and shipping are problematic. Although a 76 per cent reduction is a considerable achievement it still falls short of a zero carbon target. To improve on this figure carbon dioxide reduction would require more radical interventions or technological innovations for these two sectors than those envisaged in the SEI study. This would require fundamental changes in globalisation and patterns of international trade and mobility if aviation and shipping is to make a larger contribution to the zero carbon target.

The decarbonisation of the road and rail sector is dependent on the decarbonisation of the electricity supply system. However, if the electrical power sector decarbonisation is less than 100 per cent by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions from road and rail transport will be substantially higher.

The SEI study has shown that the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions form the UK transport sector is much greater than anyone previously thought and that reductions in emissions go hand in hand with improvements in air quality, health and economic success.

The policy recommendations include a number of radical but achievable measures including:

Spatial planning to create neighbourhoods and communities where it is possible to reach destinations on foot or by bicycle and public transport

New approaches to the regionalisation of production and consumption to bring about reductions in road freight

Increases in the cost of transport to implement the so-called “polluter pays principle”

Full de-carbonisation of the UK electricity supply system (as envisaged by the Climate Change Committee)

Full conversion of all cars to Plug In Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen Fuel Cells utilising de-carbonised electricity.

A zero carbon transport future will provide better access for more people to more things this is currently is the case. Traffic congestion and time wasted in traffic jams will be a thing of he past and the time currently wasted in commuter trips will be spent on rewarding and enriching activities.

The study has set out a vision of a zero carbon future and how to achieve it. What we need now is to convince decision-makers to move boldly and decisively to make this vision for UK transport a reality.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock

The End Game In Copenhagen

THE Copenhagen climate talks provide the opportunity for world leaders to move boldly and decisively to tackle climate change. Whatever the outcome, the summit will go down in history as a major turning point that changed the fate of our species on this planet.

THE Copenhagen climate talks provide the opportunity for world leaders to move boldly and decisively to tackle climate change. Whatever the outcome, the summit will go down in history as a major turning point that determined the fate of humankind on earth.

Throughout history there have been a number of key events that have influenced and shaped our relationship with the environment. In 1972 universal concern about the health and sustainable use of the planet and its resources resulted in the United Nations conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Stockholm conference recognised our failure to manage the biosphere as well as the increasing gap between developed and developing countries. For the first time the environment was placed high on the political agenda. The conference led to the foundation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which had a mandate to protect and manage the global environment. After the conference a number of nations established ministries of environment and developed the first wave of policies to reduce environmental pollution. This period also saw the establishment of many leading environmental non-governmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth.

Twenty years later in 1992, nations of the world gathered together once more at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) also know as the Earth Summit. The Summit produced Agenda 21 – a blueprint for action to be taken by organisations globally, nationally and locally to implement the concept of sustainable development. It also led to the adoption of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification as well as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994 with the objective to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The Commission on Sustainable Development was created to monitor and report on implementation of the Earth Summit agreements.

Twenty years after the Earth Summit in 2002 the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was convened by the United Nations to discuss progress towards sustainable development and resulted in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation which was intended to build on the achievements made since the 1992 Earth Summit and realise the remaining goals not yet achieved. The plan promoted the integration of the three components of sustainable development – economic development, social development and environmental protection.

In 1997 the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC was held in Kyoto, Japan. The meeting led to the adoption of the international agreement on climate change called the Kyoto Protocol. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

All these events have been major milestones in the history of environmentalism and have changed the way we manage our environment from the global to the local level. The fifteenth meeting of COP in Copenhagen (COP 15) will be another such event. However, this event is seen as an end game. The final chance to thrash out a successor to the Kyoto protocol which will prevent runaway climate change. This will mean halting the increase in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to keep the global temperature below two degrees centigrade. Above this level there will be dangerous and irreparable damage to our climate system.

A reduction of 25-40% compared to 1990 levels are needed and these would need to rise to 80-95% by 2050. The Stockholm Environment Institute in partnership with Friends of the Earth Europe shows how European Union can cut domestic emissions by 40% in 2020, and by 90% in 2050, compared to 1990 levels. This is considered the minimum scale and speed of reductions science says is likely to be needed from rich countries to avoid a climate catastrophe. The 40% emissions cuts can be achieved through a combination of radical improvements in energy efficiency, the accelerated phase-out of fossil fuels, a dramatic shift towards renewable energies, and lifestyle changes.

The big issues are whether developing countries such as China and India can continue to grow and achieve their development goals and whether richer nations are willing to pay for poorer countries to achieve a low carbon development.

Whether talks at Copenhagen succeed or fail it will go down in history as a landmark event. We can only hope that all parties can “seal the deal”. If not then they can at least achieve this goal as soon as possible in 2010. The only thing worse than no deal is a false deal – a deal that raises hopes and expectations but ultimately fails due to broken promises and puts human survival on this planet at risk.

© Gary Haq 2009