Growing transportation problems, including gasoline prices and carbon dioxide emissions, are forcing urban governments to consider implementing better public transportation initiatives in an effort to reduce the impact of the declining oil economy on our environment and financial markets. Research and development of renewable energy sources will require increased funding commitments from municipalities already struggling to overcome their congestion and pollution problems. The United Nations hopes that these initiatives will help reduce energy costs, pollution and even urban poverty.
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Cities across Africa have been urged to consolidate their struggles towards accessing a growing range of global environment funds in order to be able to assist in the funding of sustainable public transport systems and less polluting energy supplies.
According to Achim Steiner, United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the Nairobi based UN Environment Programme (UNEP), an increasing number of cities in the developing countries of Asia and Latin America are starting to introduce modern 21st century rapid bus transit systems, alongside measures to boost safer cycling and walking.
The investments, according to him, are so far benefiting some five cities in Latin America, including Mexico City and Panama City, and other investments underway in Jakarta and Hanoi in Asia,, are being catalysed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The GEF was established in the early 1990s to assist developing countries to achieve sustainable development and was replenished at the tune of about $3 billion some few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change offers a chance to better handle urban wastes. Gases emitted by big rubbish tips can be used to generate electricity, and thus attract new streams of funding under these carbon credit schemes.
GEF-funded sustainable transport
According to a UNEP press release, only Dar El Salaam of Tanzania, has taken advantage of GEF funding with a rapid Bus Transit System earmarked for sustainable transport projects, with South Africa, hoping to use GEF funding to help its cities boost sustainable public transportation for the 2010 World Cup.
Speaking at the summit in the Kenyan capital, Mr Steiner urged other cities in Africa to follow suit.
“The streets and infrastructure of most of Africa’s cities are being overwhelmed by traffic, leading to rising levels of hazardous air pollution and impacts on the economy. Africa should consider the mistakes made on continents, such as Europe, which indicates that trying to build your way out of the problem by constructing more and more roads can be expensive and deliver only short-term benefits.” he noted.
He asserted that while the GEF funding is aimed at reducing pollution linked with climate change, the wider benefits could transform the daily lives of Africa’s urban citizens, reduce poverty and also help in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Wider benefits and poverty alleviation
In Mexico City, where GEF projects are supporting Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) schemes, alongside cycle-ways and new traffic measures, a 10 per cent cut in transport-related smoke and fine air particles is expected to achieve an average annual benefit of over $750 million, or even more.
The Marikina bike way project in the Philippines, which focuses on safe cycle ways in the capital Manila, plans to double the share of pedal powered journeys by 2015. It is estimated that for every dollar of $2 million invested, there will be a two dollar return in health and wider environmental benefits. Such projects are also helping to boost the incomes of local, often poor, people, according to the new analysis.
A World Bank report on a similar project in Lima, Peru, states: Analysis of the Lima project shows that use of bicycles twice a day results in per capita savings of up to $7.60 each month. The amount of money saved is equivalent to just under 10 per cent of a Lima resident’s monthly energy bill. Mr Steiner said other global funds, again intent to fight climate change, could also play a part in helping Africa’s cities.
Under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, developed countries can offset some of the emission through renewable energy projects in the developing countries via the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, estimated this week that projects under the CDM could (over the long -term) generate up to $100 billion worth of funds for developing countries.
“The number of such projects is mushrooming, bringing the chance of local benefits in terms of funding and clean energy production, alongside the global benefits in terms of climate change. Unfortunately, Africa’s share of such projects remains low and needs to be addressed,” said UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner.
Of about 300 projects currently approved under the CDM, only six are in Africa. He went on to cite the huge potential for solar power and for wind energy, with one study alone indicating significant potential for wind power of up to 50 megawatts on the Ngong Hills, near Nairobi. The CDM also has at least a project involving climate-friendly public transport and more are likely to emerge in the near future.
Mr Steiner, highlighted large municipal land fields and refuse sites as another potential source of funds and clean energy development possible as a result of the CDM. Refuse sites like Dandora in Nairobi, he said can generate large amounts of methane (a potent global warming gas) from rotting organic matter, which can be harvested to fuel electricity generators with potential profits that can be used to fund recycling schemes.
Mr Steiner affirmed that UNEP, is set to assist Africa’s cities in pursuing their case for a greater slice of these global funds. He urged Africa’s national and civic leaders to give this quest a priority at the next climate change conference, scheduled to take place in Nairobi, in November this year. He finally welcomed the cooperation of ICLEI, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, in realising these goals at the November conference.