Secretary-General’s remarks at First Ministerial and Experts Conference on sustainable transport in Africa

Nairobi, 30 October 2014

It is a pleasure to join you today.   I am glad that my visit to the Horn of Africa has enabled me to take part in this important gathering. Thank you for your invitation and this opportunity.

I thank the Kenyan Government for hosting this inaugural Forum.  I also thank the World Bank for working with UN-Habitat and the UN Environment Programme in supporting this effort.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mobility and transport affect each of us, world-wide, every day.  Our economies depend on planes, trains, boats, trucks and other vehicles for the distribution of vital goods and supplies.  People depend on transport in a myriad of ways.  Yet so many people lack any transport whatsoever.  More than half of Africa’s people have no other option than to walk long distances, at times in unsafe conditions, to work, to school and to hospitals.

As the economies of Africa continue to grow, we have an opportunity to avoid the negative environmental, social and economic impacts of unsustainable transport. According to the latest data from the World Health Organization, just as Mr. Achim Steiner has said, 7 million people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution.  The use of fossil fuels to drive vehicles is also driving harmful greenhouse gas emissions to new heights.

These and other consequences are all the more unacceptable because we have solutions.  Countries and cities around the world are showing how transport can be sustainable – providing cleaner air and health and economic benefits.

I congratulate African Governments for taking the initiative to formulate a sustainable transport strategy.  Your commitment to develop and maintain reliable, modern, sustainable and affordable infrastructure in both rural and urban areas is in line with the emerging African Agenda 2063 and the associated Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda.

Africa is growing rapidly, and I am very encouraged to see so much dynamism, from individuals and the private sector, creating jobs and income. A sustainable transport sector is crucial to sustaining this hard-earned momentum.

In strengthening African transport, we must overcome a number of infrastructure bottlenecks and policy chokepoints.  Many African countries continue to face huge transport costs due to inadequate infrastructure.  The continent’s landlocked countries face a particularly high burden in accessing global markets.  Next week’s Second United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, which will take place in Vienna, offers an opportunity to highlight the need for greater transport connectivity across Africa.

Making the transition to sustainable transport is crucial to addressing climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which are currently being discussed by Member States as part of their efforts to shape a bold development agenda for the period beyond 2015.  I have created a High-level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport that is to provide recommendations on action that is needed at the global, national and local levels. I will make sure that the outcomes of your deliberations today will be provided to the Advisory Group.

Only a few months ago, I participated in the first UN Environment Assembly, here in this place, at which member countries called on the international community and UNEP to strengthen their work on air quality. I am happy to see we are already putting this into action, today, through developing a sustainable transport roadmap for Africa.

I thank you for traveling to our Headquarters here in Nairobi , and I count on you to use this opportunity to come up with a strong, forward-looking and concrete sustainable transport roadmap for Africa.

Thank you for your leadership and commitment.