Born out of need: How the Global South is driving transport innovation

By Will Duncan

The world’s emerging nations are fertile ground for radical and creative mobility solutions. Government-supported innovation is helping the Global South become a leading force in the future of transport.

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RT-Mart electric bus in China | Photo: Mars Hartdegen/Flickr

The transport sector is moving quickly these days. New technologies, shared services, and GPS are changing how we get from A to B. But perhaps one of the most interesting trends in transport is where, exactly, these innovations are coming from.

“The future of transport is in the Global South’s hands,” says Bambang Susantono, former transport minister of Malaysia and now vice-president of the Asian Development Bank.

It’s easy to see why: Twenty-seven of the world’s 33 megacities are in the Global South — a term that describes low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Extraordinary economic growth and rapid urbanisation have brought sudden change to the Global South. With progress comes a host of challenges — and, first among these is transport.

But need begets innovation. And thus, the assumption that innovation flows from rich to less prosperous regions, from industrialised to developing countries, from the northern to the southern hemisphere is being challenged. Inspiration for tomorrow’s transport solutions can be found in the Global South’s emerging nations by those who care to look.

Decades ahead

Take shared mobility. No other topic preoccupies city officials, transport planners and entrepreneurs in the industrialised North today as much as the question of how to get more than one person into a car built for four or more.

In the South, it’s been a reality for decades. “Shared mobility is everywhere when I travel cities as a global researcher,” says Fábio Duarte, Professor of Urban Planning in Curitiba, Brazil. “I take taxis in Brasília, hold on tight to ojek motorcycles in Jakarta, or figure out how to reach my destinations with matatus in Nairobi.”

Durante says that “thinking of shared mobility as a novelty is a narrow view held in the Global North”. It ignores the creative ways that societies with few cars and inadequate public transport are coping with the lack of options.

WhereIsMyTransport, a UK start-up, secured USD 1.5 million in funding in 2016 to create an accessible and accurate data service for Cape Town’s formal and informal transport routes. Informal shared minibus routes make up a significant proportion of the city’s commutes, which is typical of many cities outside of Europe and North America. WhereIsMyTransport’s digital map has made these services visible. They’re presented as complimentary or, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to any other way to get around the city.

After securing further investment, the company has expanded its data and mapping service throughout Latin America and Asia. A recent project saw informal transport in Mexico City mapped to include over 30 000 informal minibus routes.

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Formal and informal transport networks in Gauteng, South Africa. Source: WhereIsMyTransport

The South is electric

Electric mobility is another example. Despite ambitious pledges, the share of electric vehicles in the Global North remains marginal: just 2.5% of 2018 car sales in the UK were electric, 2.1% in France, and 1% in Japan. Only Norway stands out, with just under 49.1%.

The world leader in electric mobility today is China. Almost 99% of all electric buses and two-wheelers, and 40% of the world’s total of private electric cars can be found there.

This hasn’t happened by accident. The electric mobility revolution that is sweeping the Peoples’ Republic is the result of deliberate government policy. Beijing’s regulatory push mixes substantial investment into research and development, and strict emissions standards designed to force out internal combustion engines with targeted subsidies that have reduced risk for transport operators looking to adapt to the new cleaner technology. Thus, research, industry, and government are steered towards a prevailing direction, turning the country into a world market leader.

Both national legislation and city halls are in a position to provide the “enabling framework” for healthy competition, innovative ideas, and for market disruptions with the potential to greatly benefit citizens.

Emerging nations find themselves with greater freedom to innovate, as they tend to be less restricted by the historical legacies of some more developed countries. “Developing countries can break the mould of traditional transport,” says Susantono. ”The Asian car market is less wedded to internal combustion engines; hence the region now has the largest share of e-vehicles worldwide,” Susantono explains. “In this dynamic, governments of the Global South can be the leaders of change.”

In a further article looking into transport innovation in the Global South, we take Indonesia’s Gojek as a case study and examine Southeast Asia’s bustling on-demand transport market.

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To learn more about global transport innovation, check out the ITF Corporate Partnership Board’s new report Expanding Innovation Horizons: Learning from transport solutions in the Global South.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

 

Can Electric Cars Drive Global Decarbonisation?

nancy-vandyckeBy Nancy L. Vandycke, Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative, World Bank

Can one plus one be more than two? I believe that it can. In fact, I would wager that we must find opportunities to do so if we are serious about delivering our goals for the Paris Climate Agreement. The transport-energy nexus is precisely a place where we can find such opportunities; more specifically, I am talking about the possibility of global decarbonisation through the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). That said, we must always be aware of potential pitfalls. Allow me to share my experience.

The promise of global emission reduction

In 2017, transport accounted for 24 per cent of total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. To reduce emissions, many countries have been promoting the electrification of transport. For many, adopting the trend for EVs is a way to transition passenger fleet away from conventional gasoline and diesel-fuelled cars. In fact, last year, global sales of EV surpassed a million units. Under the current trend, EV production could almost quadruple by 2020, with China leading the way.

34851733984_ef336560fa_kAs more and more EVs replace internal combustion vehicles, the energy burden for transport will eventually shift from oil to electricity. This is good news for the power sector. By riding on the trend of increased EVs, it can become part of a solution for global decarbonisation.

There is an added bonus for the power sector. For years, its profitability has been in decline. Charging EVs will add some load to the power grid, which is a welcome development for utilities against the continued decline in electricity prices.

Such a scenario seems promising, but there are potential pitfalls along the way.

The pitfalls

For a long time now, the transport and energy sectors have been talking about decarbonisation in their own circles.

As I sat in conversations with industry leaders from each sector—both in my role as the lead for Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and as a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) global council on advanced energy technologies—I came to realise how disconnected the conversations about decarbonisation are. If we were to connect the two sectors, we must bring them to sit at the same table.

Accordingly, SuM4All invited experts in the energy sector to the table at our last consortium meeting in January 2019. However, it soon became clear that each side is speaking about decarbonisation in their own language and neither side could understand the other. Until both sides find a common language and tie their conversations together, it is unlikely that developments in these respective industries will succeed at decarbonising the global economy.

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Even if both sides manage to come to an agreement on a common language and approach, one must be thoughtful about the way both sectors collaborate.

As of today, renewable energy accounts for merely a quarter of total global power generation. Without greening the power grid, a wholesale adoption of EVs will not result in true decarbonisation in either sector. Half of the G20 countries have made progress in expanding renewable electricity generation in the years leading up to 2015, but, alarmingly, nine saw declines in 2015 and the preceding years. Reducing the carbon intensity of power generation is what matters in the end.

But this transformation will not happen overnight. As the share of renewables increases in the energy mix, the carbon intensity of energy production will also increase. In fact, in the short term, one expects an overall increase in carbon emissions with the EV deployment, simply because of the EV battery manufacturing.

The way forward

The good news is that if we manage to co-ordinate policy interventions within the transport and energy sectors, we can make great strides towards decarbonisation. For example, policy support measures that target electrification in the transport sector should be linked to renewable requirements on the energy side.  For this reason, I plan to bring a clear and simple message to the Electric and Digital Mobility event ahead of the upcoming ITF Summit: to fully leverage the power of mobility, we need to concurrently clean up the grid.

If we manage to do so, one plus one can indeed be more than two, and the Paris Climate Agreement goals will be very much within our reach.

Nancy L. Vandycke is a speaker at the TUMIVolt Conference on 21 May 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. The ITF Summit follows from 22-24 May.