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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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Accra’s population is expected to grow to 9.6 million by 2050. The city currently accounts for 34% of Ghana’s GDP, and 14% of Ghana’s total population. Accra has played a pivotal role in Ghana’s economic and social progress in the past 30 years. The country 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 concentration in Ghana in 2019 was 11 times higher than WHO 2021 recommended concentration levels. Without swift development of a clean expansion, Accra’s inhabitants’ health, wellbeing, 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 WHO’s Urban Health Initiative, which has engaged the health sector on the extraordinary benefits of reducing air pollution, tackling climate change and cleaning the skies. 

Major sources of air pollution


Almost half of Accra’s PM2.5 concentrations are attributable to road transport (39%), 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, and expanding the metro and the public bus fleet networks to reduce PM2.5 and CO2e emissions in the city. There is a 2024 policy initiative which seeks to waive import duty for electric vehicles meant for commercial transportation until 2032 to help reduce high vehicular emissions. There is also a policy initiative to tax industrial and vehicular emissions, applying the ‘polluter pays’ principle as a deterrent to reduce air pollution from industrial and vehicle sources.

Industrial and power plants 

Emissions from industry and manufacturing contribute heavily to air pollution in Accra (11%), alongside automobile spraying and carpentry. Biomass fuels used in most power generators are also significant sources of the city’s total PM2.5 concentration. 60% of households still use charcoal and wood as their primary household fuel.  

Other causes of air pollution 

Other causes of air pollution include household heating (10%), waste generation (5%) and seasonal harmattan dust. Waste generation is increasing at a staggering pace across Accra, exacerbated by global e-waste and fast fashion discarded in the city. 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. Accra experiences intense natural air pollution from  Saharan Desert dust between the end of November and March each year. This significantly increases the level of TSP, PM10 and PM2.5 concentration over this period.

Health and financial impact of air pollution in Accra 

In 2019, approximately 3,000 premature deaths were attributed to air pollution in Accra. At the country level, air pollution related deaths (23,792) exceeded those from malaria (21,597), tuberculosis (10,222), and HIV/AIDS (14,620) in the same year.

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

The cumulative impact between 2023-2040 from implementing the identified clean air interventions could save Accra ~$216m, which is about 20% of the Ghana government’s total health budget 2022 ($1.1 bn). A further 3,800 deaths could be reduced, as well as GHG emissions abated by 70Mt of CO2e, equivalent to ~140% of Ghana’s current annual emissions.

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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