Advancing electric mobility in Africa

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At this year’s virtual edition of Africa Climate Week (ACW 2021), experts discussed ways to accelerate the transition from fuel-based transport to electric vehicles on the African continent, and highlighted a number of good examples of what is possible in this regard, in countries ranging from South Africa to Uganda.

Today’s transport sector accounts for around a quarter of energy-related CO2 emissions globally and is almost completely dependent on fossil fuels. Decarbonizing the sector is therefore crucial to achieving the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

One example of a country implementing sustainable transport policies is South Africa, where the transportation sector accounts for 10% of total emissions. The country has put in place a policy to boost e-mobility through differentiated taxation on vehicle registration. At the same time, charging infrastructure has grown exponentially, with charging stations deployed every 200-300 kilometres on major highways. Such policies can and must be scaled up and replicated in the region.

Some African countries are already integrating e-mobility into their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of their national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs.

Despite significant challenges in transitioning to e-mobility – Rwanda’s NDC targets, for example, involve mobilizing USD 900 million for electric vehicles and their associated charging infrastructures – several concrete examples of e-mobility solutions currently up and running in the region were showcased at the ACW event.

These included two e-motorcycle demonstration projects from Kenya and Uganda, which are part of the UNEP global e-mobility programme. In both countries, the annual uptake of conventional motorcycles is multiplying, with a 3-fold increase in motorcycle imports compared to car imports over the last twenty years.

“The objective of these demonstration projects is to show that the technology is viable and can play a significant part in making the African transport sector much more sustainable,” said Alexander Koerner, Programme Officer, UN Environment.

Some of the challenges reported by the projects are longer charging time, limited speed, mechanical and electrical failures and restricted range.

There is an urgent need for skill development in Africa. Shantha Bloemen, Director, Mobility for Africa, said: “We can’t roll out e-mobility if we continue to work in silos. We are building local skills, local mechanics, developing the practical skills we need that have massive potential for job creation.”

She underlined that Africa is a predominantly agriculture-based continent, with the majority still living in rural areas. To ease the transport mobility crisis in rural Africa, her organization is focusing on combining off-grid and battery swapping systems on low-speed three-wheeler vehicles.

Ms. Bloemen also highlighted the need for more research and development, adding: “We need to start seeing a bit more appetite for experimentation and to make sure the business model works.”

The outcomes of the event will contribute to the development of a technical paper on sustainable mobility, which will identify the elements related to the development, diffusion and impacts of advanced decarbonization technologies for sustainable mobility.

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