New Delhi: Europe's plan to phase out vehicles with internal combustion engines has made the region a pioneer in climate protection. But without progress in cleaning up the streets of poorer nations, it will not be enough to keep global warming below dangerous levels.
Take Nairobi, for example. The Kenyan capital's fleet of vehicles doubles every eight years and the approximately 4.5 million inhabitants depend on minibus taxis called Matatus. Although they are cheap, they are usually older and often run on dirty diesel.
While virtually all of the world's population growth will be in developing countries by 2050, thousands of cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America could cling to fossil-fuel vans, buses and motorcycles for decades, said Rob de Jong, who heads the mobility unit for the United Environment program Nations.
In Kenya, carbon emissions have roughly doubled since 2005, with the transport sector responsible for much of the increase.
“If we only bring electric vehicles to the US and Finland and the Netherlands, we will not achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement,” DE Jon said in a telephone interview. “We need the introduction of low-emission and zero-emission vehicles also in countries with low and middle income.”
Most electric vehicles are sold in the US, China and Europe, where government incentives to buy and investments in charging infrastructure make it easier for customers to forego combustion vehicles. However, in many developing countries, a lack of government purchasing power and poor infrastructure are major obstacles to switching.
The European Union proposed earlier this month that member states stop selling all-emission cars by 2035 at the latest – a move designed to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and help the region reduce transport emissions, which have increased by a third since 1990 .
Richer nations are responsible for most of man-made warming, with three-quarters of industrial emissions coming from North America, Europe and China, according to research from Oxford University. Africa only accounts for 3% of the total, but its share is expected to grow rapidly due to population growth.
When the Paris Agreement was passed in 2015, countries committed to keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Researchers now believe a cap of 1.5 degrees is required to avoid some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change, and are putting pressure on the West to help poorer nations in their efforts to curb emissions as well.
Countries like Uganda and Morocco have already introduced rules to improve the quality of the hundreds of thousands of used cars imported from the West every year. Most of these vehicles are between 16 and 20 years old, which means that the industry has contributed to the worsening of air pollution in the area.
Part of the problem is that global automakers are designing their cars, vans, and motorcycles to attract well-heeled customers in the west, and largely ignoring the needs of potential buyers in poorer markets, de Jong said.
“We don't want a Tesla Model S – we need a small, $ 10,000 city car,” he said. “We don't want a Harley-Davidson or a Vespa – we want a $ 1,500 electric motorcycle that is very robust and can transport three people and a goat.”
Local EV startups are popping up across Africa to capitalize on the potential. In countries like Rwanda, where the motorcycle manufacturer Ampersand is expanding its network of bicycle and battery replacement stations, the demand for battery-powered vehicles is already far exceeding the supply.
China's BYD Co. is selling its electric vans in Kenya through a local distributor that plans to import up to 100 units by the end of the year. The Kenyan government's electricity producer has spent hundreds of millions of dollars drawing geothermal energy from the volcanic Rift Valley – electricity for the grid that startup ARC Ride plans to use to charge its fleet of electric rickshaws and motorcycles.
But without additional institutional support and the resources of the major automakers, the expansion of local manufacturing and the electrification of car fleets can remain elusive.
Volkswagen AG, the world's second largest automaker, plans to accelerate the introduction of electric vehicles in Europe so that its eponymous brand could phase out in the ICE region between 2033 and 2035. But the industrial giant is also researching bioethanol in Brazil and has suggested that fossil fuels may have been around longer in some parts of the world.
ARC Ride tries to speed up the shift. The company aims to provide cleaner transportation in several African cities and is currently focused on Nairobi, where its fleet of motorcycles helped deliver Uber Eats. The startup plans to roll out the vehicles as taxis in Rwanda from next year.
“These cities are growing fast, and it would be disastrous for the climate if that growth were carbon-intensive,” said Chief Executive Officer Joseph Hurst-Croft. “We can and urgently need to skip entire energy systems in order to create consistently cleaner traffic.”