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Transport and environment in Africa and beyond – food for thought

Publié le: jeu. 15/09/2022, 23:43

The advent of COVID-19 pandemic forced us all -for better or for worse- to drastically reduce all our movements and thus reduce transport to literally zero for nearly all the largest polluting countries.

The big polluters are in red on the map and the low carbon countries are in green. Image: Autre

As we had reached unprecedented global carbon emissions records, the advent of COVID-19 pandemic forced us all -for better or for worse- to drastically reduce all our movements and thus reduce transport to literally zero for nearly all the largest polluting countries. Road and air transport was, one might say, in a coma stage. Did we die as a result of these draconian lockdowns? No. On the contrary, lives have been mostly saved and preserved from this pandemic.

As soon as things seemed to settle down regarding this pandemic, transport resumed along with its carbon emissions but unfortunately, this time, by surpassing the point of no return. Although this alarming news released at the end of 2021 was largely ignored, almost all experts on the issue of global warming are unequivocal, including the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, which confirms that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeded the threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2021 and that this value will no longer decrease but rather increase.

If this was not bad enough, carbon emissions have increased even more with the resuming this year of coal-fired power plants by the same so-called developed but polluting countries having to deal with the energy crisis they are suffering as a direct result of the conflict in Ukraine, incidentally, calling into question the relevance of the economic model of globalization, so much touted or even imposed on the rest of the world in a not so distant past.

In light of all this bleak masterpiece painted exclusively by the very leading developed countries, it becomes imperative for Africa to finally and definitively take its destiny in hand for its own interest but also for the survival of the entire planet. Yes, having reached the point of no return is not necessarily a fate. We are all doomed to act in a concrete, tangible and urgent fashion to slow the pace of global warming and ultimately delay our end as long as possible.

This is possible but only with a global and comprehensive approach by separating on one hand the big polluters (in red shades on the map) and on another hand the low-carbon countries (in green shade on the map). 


For big polluters, the approach would be to learn from lockdown measures during the harshest periods of the pandemic in Europe (those in China were so drastic, even traumatic for the population, so could not serve as best practice) by tackling the most devastating economic sectors for the environment such as transport. The idea would be to introduce work from home as a new standard -the new normal- in order to reduce urban mobility, perhaps intermittently or gradually, but also by significantly developing public transport with wider transit networks and greater capacities and by promoting cycling or even walking by developing pedestrian areas. It would also include a ban on major international meetings and forums (even the COP) and replacing them with online forums in order to no longer have a carbon footprint of air transport associated with these events.

As far as Africa is concerned, it can no longer afford to remain passive as a spectator in the face of the challenges on which the future of the whole planet depends, including itself. Africa must now be proactive. Given its status as a very low carbon emitter (with the exception of South Africa), it is therefore necessary to maintain this status. However, any action and, in this specific case, inaction comes at a cost. This cost, in the case of Africa, is quantifiable in terms of the shortfall that would result from the slowdown or cap of carbon emissions (and therefore GDP growth). Such economic slowdown or capping is becoming imperative. The associated cost is easily justified by the principle of the polluter-payer, long considered as a simple view of mind, which is more important than ever in view of the gravity and urgency of the issue we are all facing. In practice this could be implemented through the famous carbon tax payable to countries in Africa but in a more pragmatic, less cumbersome and especially in a materially significant form than what is being done so far. The concept of carbon sinks of which West and Central Africa are potentially endowed with, with its forests that should be preserved from deforestation constitutes large assets for monetization that remain largely hidden because unknown to the general public.


This is all just food for thought to address the issue of global warming with the focus on the transport sector in Africa and beyond. The most important thing to remember and prioritize is to take action: We must act in the right direction, act significantly and act quickly. This will only be possible through a collective and global awareness with a realignment on Africa’s traditional values (to differentiate from Africa seeking in vain to embrace so-called modern values brought by globalization) which are environmentally sound.  


By Alassane Ndiaye

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