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The African Union Commission (AUC) calls for sustainable rail as a climate solution for urban transport in Africa at COP28

15 December 2023

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During COP28, the African Union Commission (AUC) organised a side event entitled “Mitigation and Response to Global Climate Change: Urban and Railway Transport in Africa”. Moderated by the International Union of Railways (UIC), the event aimed to address the pressing issues of climate change and the role of railways in Africa.

The distinguished panel featured H.E Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, AUC Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, and Christopher Kost, Africa Programme Director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), and was moderated by Lucie Anderton, UIC Head of Sustainable Development. The panel discussion also featured high-level speakers from the European Commission, with Hon. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa), and Abdou Ndéné Sall, Director General of Senegalese State Asset Management of Regional Express Trains (SEN-TER), also joining the session.

In her opening speech, the Commissioner underscored the urgency with which policy makers and transport stakeholders should prioritise actions that advance railway and urban transport projects in Africa. She outlined three crucial phases: planning, construction, and operation.

  • Planning phase
    Emphasising the need to maximise low-carbon mobility, Dr Abou Zeid called for the integration of railways into urban land-use plans and designs, thereby reducing reliance on fossil fuel-dependent transport.
  • Construction phase
    Dr Abou Zeid urged for the use of local and low-carbon construction materials to be maximised, advocating for railway lines that minimise the need for complex structures like bridges and viaducts.
  • Operation phase
    The Commissioner called for the liberalisation of the rail market to avoid bottlenecks, and proposed setting performance standards for emissions per passenger-kilometre and freight tonne-kilometre.

The event clearly highlighted the social, economic, and environmental benefits of transitioning to rail in Africa. This modal shift aims to decouple economic growth from transport emissions, but the continent faces a substantial infrastructure and finance gap. According to Dr Abou-Zeid, “This side event provided an opportunity to reflect on this [the abovementioned issues] and outline the interdependence of gender equity, climate change and transport. Integrating both gender and transport decarbonisation goals are likely to yield quick and effective results, as opposed to addressing them separately.

Notable findings from the session included:

  • 23 out of 53 African Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) acknowledge rail as a climate solution.
  • Eight African countries, including Burkina Faso, the Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan, identified a clear need to finance for rail development.
  • To attract climate finance, measures to de-risk and make borrowing affordable for Africa are imperative.
  • As demonstrated by Senegal with transformational projects such as SEN-TER and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a clear political vision plays a crucial role in building confidence and attracting finance.
  • Successful projects require a multimodal and network connectivity approach.
  • The empowerment of women is essential for their meaningful participation in the transformation of mobility.
  • Strengthening international cooperation and partnerships is critical to remaining focused on policy action.

The event concluded with the importance of a concerted effort to bridge the infrastructure gap and secure funding being emphasised. However, there was also exciting news on rail development in Africa. The African Development Bank, recognising the pivotal role of rail in sustainable development, recently approved an impressive $696.41 million in financing for Burundi and Tanzania. This sizeable investment is earmarked for the construction of 650 kilometres of rail infrastructure in the region. The move not only underscores the commitment of key stakeholders, but also sets the stage for transformative rail projects that will undoubtedly contribute to a sustainable and climate-friendly transport future for the region.

For more information on the activities of UIC Africa, please contact Maria Lafont at

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