Greening up Kenya's 'dirty' transport sector gathers pace

Electric car charging at a power station in Paris, France. [Courtesy]

Kenya is taking steps to green up its transport sector as it seeks to reduce the emission of hazardous gases.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) announced in April that it would soon require all second-hand car imports to adhere to higher emission standards.

Beginning July 1, all imported vehicles will have met the Euro IV/4 standards on emission in an attempt to fight pollution and improve air quality.

“All imported new diesel-powered and petrol power vehicles shall be type-approved to meet the requirements of Euro IV/4 before importation into the country,” said Kebs in a notice that also bans the importation of second-hand buses and trucks.

The EuroIV/4 emissions standards, introduced in 2005, are stringent requirements on automakers requiring that they produce vehicles whose engines have lower emissions. Kenya currently uses standards it adopted more than 20 years ago. While EuroIV/4 can be said to be stringent compared to what Kenya has, Europe has progressively implemented additional standards that are even more strict and is gearing to implement EuroVII/7.

The requirement to import engines with EuroIV/4 standards comes as Kebs implements the KS1515: 2019 - Road Vehicles - Inspection of Road Vehicles - Code of Practice.

The implementation of these standards that were developed in 2019 was pushed forward to enable local industries and car importers to adopt the new standards.

The standards also require local assemblers to meet the EuroIV standard beginning January 1, 2024.

The implementation of higher standards is the latest clamour in the country’s effort to green up the transport sector, which, though moving painfully slowly, has made strides in recent years.

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system on Thika road, which is expected to become operational this year, will use buses that are either fully electric, hybrid (run on biodiesel and electricity) or biodiesel.

BRT station along Thika Road. November 15, 2021.[Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Authority (Namata) has specified that it will not allow buses that run on fossil fuels. The initial batch of buses on the Thika Road BRT system is expected to be powered by biodiesel, with the government looking at operating fully electric buses once the power infrastructure is in place.

“Biodiesel is green, and there is a programme to do biodiesel in the country, but before this is ready, we will be importing. Namata will be championing green technology,” said Principal Secretary State Dept for Housing and Urban Development Charles Hinga when he recently gave an update on the Thika Road project. “For us to go fully electric, we need some ancillary infrastructure. When we have hybrid buses, then when we have the infrastructure we can switch to electric.”

It appears that the use of electric buses will apply to all BRT lines planned for the Nairobi metropolitan area.

Another BRT line connecting Nairobi’s Eastlands to the city centre and Kenyatta National Hospital is also expected to be fully electric.

The line, dubbed BRT Core Line Three, has been projected to cost €299 million (Sh37.6 billion).

The European Investment Bank (EIB) — which intends to take up the role of a lead financier is expected to finance the line to the tune of €145 million (Sh18.24 billion) — in a recent update on the project said the BRT buses that will ply the line will be “zero-emission electric buses”.

“Clean BRT Line 3 will provide a substantial improvement to the current public transport system of the congested capital of Kenya by offering a green solution to the challenges of an efficient bus network,” said EIB in a January 2022 brief on the project.

The about 110 buses that will be deployed on the line will enable the operator to have a circulation of buses every 90 seconds, especially during rush hours.

“The BRT fleet required for the Core Line Three at opening year comprises 110 articulated 18m electric buses. This fleet shall cover service operation needs and reserve vehicles for incident management and maintenance assurance. In the longer term, the BRT fleet shall increase for the operation of the entire Line Three (Showground to Dandora) and to meet passenger demand,” said Namata in a separate report on the environmental and social impact of the constructing the BRT line.

The transport sector is one of the biggest polluters globally, and the pattern is reflected locally where it is estimated to account for more than half of the carbon dioxide produced.

In 2015, for instance, the country is estimated to have produced 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, with the transport sector producing the bulk of this at an estimated 11.25 million tonnes.

The transport sector is one of the biggest polluters globally

Of this, the road sector was the largest polluter, producing 10.97 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

“In the year 2015 total domestic transport sector emissions in Kenya amounted to 11.25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide,” said the Ministry of Transport in its Transport Climate Sector Climate Change Report.

While the emissions in Kenya are minute compared to how more developed nations emit, it is still a concern, especially in major urban areas, where the residents are increasingly suffering from respiratory diseases and also contributing, albeit marginally, to global warming.

Investments in BRT systems, especially around Nairobi are expected to reduce the number of cars on the road. Additionally, the Transport Ministry said it is working on other measures that include enhancing non-motorised transport (NMT) facilities, which will ease daily commutes for many Kenyans who either walk or ride bicycles but have been largely ignored by infrastructure development.

Other efforts include upgrading commuter rail as well as shifting traffic - both commuter and freight - from road to rail for travel between Nairobi and Mombasa, which is served by the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).

The SGR may, however, not have reduced the number of lorries on roads due to growth in imports, which continue giving truckers business.

SGR while seen as key in reducing emissions on roads, is taking its toll on the environment, especially in parks such as the Nairobi National Park. The SGR to Naivasha traverses through the park.

In the climate change report, the Transport Ministry also said it would increasingly promote the use of electric vehicles, including the importation of 150 electric vehicles—both buses and cars — for government use.

Other than individuals Kenyans who have increasingly been buying hybrid vehicles, several firms have deployed fully electric cars in the country, including the ride-hailing company Nopea Ride.