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Recommendations for sustainable growth in cities

The case for investing in air pollution and climate change together

Business-as-usual will condemn Africa’s fastest-growing cities to high levels of air pollution and soaring emissions, driving highly negative effects on health, economic growth and the environment in the short and long term. Conversely, governments have a golden opportunity to capitalise on some demographic and other advantages by tackling air pollution and climate change at the same time, as a catalyst for growth. 

The actions proposed here – and others like them – make sense on several fronts, and will pay for themselves many times over. They save and improve lives, provide economic benefits locally, reduce emissions and drive fair and sustainable growth.

Tackling air pollution in Africa will require concerted action from governments, city leaders, donors, and citizens. 

African governments should: 

  • Review high-emitting sectors like energy, transport, industrial and power production, agriculture, and waste management to identify ways to reduce air pollution, like the measures highlighted in this report. 
  • Prioritise health and climate gains in infrastructure and service investments, using evidence from integrated assessments.
  • Support building an integrated network of air quality monitoring systems – including in  cities where there are none – to generate reliable estimates of local air quality data. This data would drive effective air quality policy design to reduce exposure to air pollution, while serving as a powerful tool to inform the public about the dangers of air pollution.
  • Make action on air pollution an explicit priority in climate action and sustainable development activities. Include reporting on Integrated Air Quality measures and health co-benefits of climate action commitments in NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions, reported to UNFCCC) and make air quality a central focus in policy discussions at the forthcoming Conference of Parties (COP27) meetings in Egypt. 

City mayors and other local government leaders across Africa should: 

  • Implement C40’s integrated planning framework to help cities simultaneously meet their climate change, air quality and health goals.
  • Commit to the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration to improve health, climate, and deliver wider benefits for cities across the continent.
  • Collaborate with neighbouring municipalities on shared air quality challenges and opportunities. 

OECD-DAC donors and multilateral development banks should:

  • Increase Official Development Assistance (ODA) and other grant-based funding for air quality programmes.
  • Make funding for air quality a stronger priority for finance and target new funding into overlooked regions like Africa. Double the share of international ODA funding for  air quality in Africa from 3.7% in 2021 to at least  7% in 2024. 
  • OECD countries who have not yet committed to phase out all existing ODA investment in high-emission fossil fuels should do so now, and redirect this funding to accelerate a just energy transition. 
  • Systematically capture and communicate the health, environmental and development benefits of air quality expenditure as an investment and impact opportunity. 
  • Improve reporting and tracking of spending on tackling air pollution especially where funding comes from multiple government departments or agencies.

Philanthropic foundations should:

  • Engage directly with city mayors and local leaders to target finance and support to evidence-based, locally developed solutions to address air quality and climate change in Africa. 
  • Support drastic improvements in the availability and useability of air quality data to inform policy design and enable citizens to access information about the state and sources of air they breathe. 
  • Expand the share of philanthropic investments for air quality from the current low of 0.6% in 2021.  

Citizens and civil society organisations should: 

  • Use processes such as the Open Government Partnership to call for new commitments in relation to transparency in the collection and monitoring of data on air quality in national and local Open Government Action Plans.
  • Join the call for local and national leaders to take an integrated approach to tackling air quality and climate change in order to deliver substantial benefits to the wider society and economy. 

Our recommendations call for a much heavier and coordinated focus on air pollution as the bedrock for sustainable growth. City authorities, national governments and international funders can all achieve existing policy priorities more effectively by investing in planning, monitoring and reporting against air quality targets. This work is best done together, across portfolios and other siloes. 

The evidence  is clear and we don’t have time to waste. We now need a step change in political will, funding and implementation. World governments will shortly meet at the COP27 conference to work out rapid, scalable, economically sound solutions to avoid environmental and humanitarian disaster. Air pollution ticks all these boxes, and this analysis of the potential benefits to African cities shows what is possible. If we want to turn our biggest challenges into opportunities, this approach has to be part of the conversation.