In Conversation
August 2015

In Conversation with: Mr. Rob de Jong

For our 2nd “In Conversation with:” issue this year, we are delighted to share with our readers some interesting thoughts and views from Mr. Rob de Jong who is the Head of Transportation Unit at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). We would like to thank Mr. de Jong for his efforts in comprehensively answering our questions which provide some highly valuable insights into the various initiatives undertaken by the organization.


Mr. Rob de Jong
Head, Transport Unit
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Rob de Jong is a Dutch national. He holds an Engineering Degree in Environmental Engineering and a Master’s Degree in International Environmental Policy.

Before joining the UN he worked as a consultant and for the Rotterdam Harbour Authorities. He joined the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) in 1996 to work on the joint UNEP – UN-Habitat Sustainable Cities Programme. In 1998 he joined the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) where he has worked on international environmental policy development, green building, international environmental governance and urban environment programs. For the past 8 years he has been the Head of UNEP’s Transport Unit, leading a team that is supporting sustainable transport projects world-wide. Rob is based at UNEP’s Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Q: Can you please describe your role and responsibility in the United Nations Environment Programme and share with us what you see as your main challenges in this assignment?

A: I am the Head of the Transport Unit in UNEP, based at UNEP’s Headquarters in Nairobi. The team has 20 staff and we implement several global sustainable transport programs. The emphasis of UNEP’s work is on trying to reach global agreement and targets, and support countries to implement these, with a substantive focus on technology and infrastructure. We also support activities worldwide, with a special focus on low and middle income countries.

Q: What are the pillars of the programme and what are UNEP’s main objectives?

A: We support a move to sustainable low carbon transport systems; the Unit’s work is part of UNEP’s Energy, Climate and Technology Branch. It has a combined focus on local health benefits and global climate and energy benefits. We implement six main programs:

  • clean fuels and vehicles – we are the Secretariat of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV);
  • improvement of the efficiency of the global vehicle fleet – we are one of the leading partners in the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI);
  • promotion of non-motorized transport facilities - walking and cycling, through our Share the Road programme;
  • clean ports, a new programme;
  • the African Sustainable Transport Forum (ASTF) - a transport road map for Africa, which we work on together with the World Bank. We host the Secretariat for this;
  • and we are about to launch a new electric mobility programme.

Q: In your ‘Partnership of Clean Fuels and Vehicles’ initiative (PCFV) you are promoting sustainable low emissions transport. What are you expecting in terms of support, from the fuels industry and from the car manufacturers?

A: The PCFV has been the leading global public- private initiative to promote cleaner fuels and vehicles. The PCFV is a partnership in which the private sector - both vehicles and fuels industry-, governments, civil society and international organizations work together. We support a harmonized and phased move to unleaded and low sulphur fuels and the introduction of vehicles emissions standards. The private sector is a major beneficiary of the PCFV’s work as we work together to introduce cleaner and modern fuels and vehicles in a harmonized approach. For this to work we need the support from the fuels and vehicles industry - political, technical, and financial. We like to recognize the active participation and support from the Asian Clean Fuels Association to the PCFV and its work.

Q: Looking at fuel quality and emission standards in the Middle East and picking here two specific cases, namely Egypt and Iraq, does the PCFV initiative have individual measurements in place to promote and develop cleaner fuels standards in those two countries?

A: We keep track of the fuels and vehicles situation of all countries in the world. We are the leading global resource providing free information about clean fuels, including unleaded and low sulphur fuels.. With regards to activities in Egypt and Iraq, we have been supporting Iraq on phasing out lead from gasoline as a priority topic. Iraq is one of the three remaining countries in the world that is still using leaded fuels. We are closely cooperating with PCFV partners, including ACFA, on the activities in Iraq and the Middle East in general. With ACFA’s support, we are planning a technical meeting on phasing out leaded petrol in Iraq in October this year.

UNEP has come up with a broad regional roadmap for improving fuel quality standards in the League of Arab States. Moving forward on promoting cleaner fuels, both Egypt and Iraq would require capacity building and technical support for refinery upgrade and the importation of ultra-low sulphur diesel in line with the fuel quality roadmap. In addition, for Egypt we have supported decision makers to attend training on fuel efficiency in the transport sector. We have also conducted a study on setting a baseline on the fuel economy of the light duty vehicles for Egypt.

Q: The transportation fuels market in Africa is going to grow substantially. In terms of actual fuel standards, what do you see evolving in Africa over the next 10 years? Can we expect any significant changes, leading to the enrolment of Euro-like emission standards?

A: Africa’s vehicle fleet is growing faster than any other region. At the same, time vehicle emissions are very high due to poor fuel quality and the lack of vehicles policies. Many of our activities take place in Africa, at any time we are working in 20 to 30 countries in Africa. We are supporting African countries to put in place roadmaps to move to low sulphur fuels of not more than 50 parts per million sulphur. In line with this we are also supporting African countries to put in place vehicle emissions standards – the majority of African countries have no vehicles emissions standards. We are also working on other areas such as promoting walking and cycling and restricting the importation of used vehicles. African cities still have relatively clean air, but the situation is rapidly changing. If we act now we can still prevent major air pollution as we see in many cities around the world. Our window of opportunity is short and thus these are urgent issues. We hope that the continent will move to low sulphur fuels and Euro 4 emissions standards in the next decade and from there follow international trends, like going to 10ppm with Euro 6. Much work is still needed though to achieve this.

Q: In October 2014 UNEP co-organized the first ‘Africa Sustainable Transport Forum’ (ASTF) in Nairobi. The event was hosted by the Kenyan government and sponsored by the World Bank and others. Did the forum ratify any specific initiatives and programmes? What has been implemented to date and what is the future action plan?

A: The Forum was the first time that Africa as a continent looked at current transport trends and how to ensure these are more sustainable. It was also the first time that in Africa, the environment and transport communities met at high level. It showed that Africa’s current transport trajectory is unsustainable. The Forum developed a concrete action plan with 13 concrete actions to make Africa’s future transport sustainable. UNEP is now hosting the Secretariat and with the World Bank and others we are taking stock what is being done Africa wide to implement the roadmap.

Q: UNEP’s Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) promotes the introduction and use of cleaner and more energy efficient fuels. How are you trying to spread this idea around in the African/Middle East communities? We understand that higher octane help improves fuel economy. Could we incorporate it into the action plan?

A: Most developing countries depend on oil and fuel imports. The GFEI provides them an opportunity to double the efficiency of their fleet, using existing measures, with many cost benefits. Many countries are interested to put in place measures that will improve the efficiency of their fleets – it will reduce air pollution, fuel use, energy dependence and it will save governments and consumers money. Today only a few African countries have incentives in place to promote cleaner and more efficient vehicles, through, for example, increasing taxes on dirty inefficient vehicles and providing a tax break for more efficient vehicles. There is a range of measures that countries can take to improve the efficiency of their fleet, including improving their fuel specs, and often a combination will work best. We are advising several African countries on putting in place such fuel economy policies.

Q: We have all heard and read about African fuel imports containing low-cost but harmful and illegal chemicals in the past. Can UNEP include these concerns as part of its overall work plan?

A: UNEP’s work on fuel quality is through implementing the PCFV work plan as approved by the PCFV partners – so our focus is on phasing out leaded gasoline, introducing low sulphur fuels and improving vehicles emissions standards. UNEP’s position is that people deserve a clean fuel that results in minimal environmental and health impacts.

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