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Accra and air pollution

From pollution to solution in Africa's cities: The case for investing in air pollution and climate change together

Accra is Africa’s fastest growing city, and the capital of one the world’s fastest growing economies. More than 4 million people live in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area with a daily influx of 2.5 million business commuters. Accra is the country’s commercial centre and capital.

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The population is expected to grow to 9.6 million by 2050. Accra currently accounts for 34% of Ghana’s GDP, and 14% of Ghana’s total population. The city has played a pivotal role in Ghana’s economic and social progress in the past 30 years. It achieved middle-income status in 2011 and has experienced strong, sustained economic growth, averaging over 5% since the early 1990s and halving poverty from 52.7% in 1993 to 23.4 percent in 2016. However, poverty reduction has slowed in recent years, and inequalities in some areas continue. Meanwhile, increasing debt distress is increasing the cost of living and undermining public investment.  

The costs of air pollution compound these pressures. Inadequate public transport infrastructure, industrial estates, and waste burning are major sources of air pollution. The annual average PM2.5 level in Ghana in 2019 was 11 times higher than the WHO 2021 recommended levels. Without swift development of a clean expansion, Accra’s inhabitants’ health, well-being and socio-economic prospects will worsen. This in turn will hamper its burgeoning services and manufacturing sectors. 

The government and city authorities are taking innovative action to tackle air pollution in Accra. One example is the Urban Health Initiative, which has transformed urban planning by engaging the health sector on the extraordinary benefits of reducing air pollution, tackling climate change and cleaning the skies. 

The annual nationwide cost to Ghana of air pollution is estimated at $2.5 billion, approximately 4.2% of GDP. It causes about 28,000 deaths from Non-Communicable Diseases, such as ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

Major sources of air pollution


Almost half of Accra’s PM2.5 levels are attributable to road transport, which is linked to inadequate public transport infrastructure. 70% of daily commuters in Ghana use privately run minibuses known locally as ‘Tro-tros’, which are often older, higher-emitting vehicles. Privately owned vehicles account for the rest of Accra’s traffic congestion and exhaust fumes. Because Accra’s vast networks of roads remain unpaved and dusty, higher PM2.5 concentrations are produced through resuspended dust. 
The Ghana Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project aims to improve public transport services and urban mobility through better regulation. This includes regulating Tro-tros, expanding the metro network and the public bus fleet to reduce PM2.5 and CO2e emissions in the city.

Industrial and power plants

Emissions from industry and manufacturing contribute heavily to air pollution in Accra, alongside automobile spraying and carpentry. Biomass fuels most power generators are also significant sources of the city’s total PM2.5 concentration. 60% of households still use charcoal and wood as primary household fuel. 

Other causes of air pollution 

Other causes of air pollution include soil dust (around one fifth). Waste generation is increasing at a staggering pace across Accra, exacerbated by global e-waste and fast fashion discarded in the city, and is a major cause of air pollution. For example, Accra generates nearly 900,000 metric tons of solid waste annually, which is expected to double by 2030 as 14.6% of households burn their daily solid waste, and 17.4% of waste is disposed of in public spaces. 

Recovery of metals from e-waste through burning is a contributor to toxic air, with Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra where this is the predominant activity, releasing a mix of highly toxic chemicals. 

Health and financial impact of air pollution in Accra

In Accra, approximately 3,000 premature deaths (roughly 11% of the total) were attributable to air pollution in 2019. This exceeds the number of premature deaths caused by the 10.4% resulting from malaria, the 4.9% from tuberculosis, and the 7.5% from HIV/AIDS.

The visualisation above shows the financial cost of air pollution related premature mortality and absenteeism in 2019 and the projected impacts under a business-as-usual scenario. 

Impact of clean air policies  that reduce air pollution and GHG emissions

Implementing the identified indicative clean air policies to reduce air pollution could unlock more than $28m for Accra – around 16% of its financial costs under the business-as-usual scenario in 2040 alone. More importantly, in that year, more than 11% of lives could be saved (over 363), and GHG emissions reduced by 32% (2 Mt of CO2 equivalent). The cumulative impact of the levers on air pollution in Accra from 2023-2040 could unlock around $250m, over 3,000 lives, and abate GHG emissions by 29 Mt of CO2 equivalent.

For Accra to maximise its potential as a thriving, healthy and prosperous city, air pollution needs to be reduced. Tourists, workers and consumers need to be incentivised to stay, live and work in its growing services sector (including ICT, banking, tourism, transportation), which accounts for 63% of GDP

Air pollution presents a significant risk to the sustainability of the sector due to lower workforce productivity, increased absenteeism, and decreased consumer footfall (including tourism) resulting in reduced profit margins. 

Ghana has recognised the strategic importance of acting on air pollution and climate together. In 2020, it became the first country in the world to include air pollution, in the form of black carbon, in its National Greenhouse Gas Inventory submitted to the UNFCCC. And in 2018, Ghana published a National Action Plan to Mitigate short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) which identifies measures that both improve air quality and help to mitigate against climate change.

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