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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 both 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 reduce deaths and the burden of disease 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: 

  • Encourage data-sharing between air quality monitoring networks, health authorities and decision-makers to ensure all departments and levels of governments have the necessary data to deliver coordinated, evidence-based decision-making. As countries develop their air quality capacities, governments should serve as the central repository and/or owner of air quality datasets to ensure knowledge is as close to decision-making as possible.
  • Review high-emitting sectors at the national-level such as energy, transport, industrial and power production, agriculture, and waste management to identify ways to reduce air pollution. This may include legislative options that are unavailable to district or city-level policy makers. 
  • Produce integrated air quality management and national climate action plans that clearly describe the necessary tasks, owners, and implementation timeframe for a comprehensive set of air pollution measures. Use this opportunity to assign clear air pollution mandates and targets to various levels of government, including government departments, country districts, and city councils.
  • Maximise health benefits: governments and cities, with support from funders, should use air quality data and support health research to advance understanding of the health impacts of air pollution, especially on babies and children, and the associated avoidable costs to health systems, communities and people most affected. Ensure air quality interventions are designed to maximise health benefits.
  • Include reporting on Integrated air quality measures and health co-benefits of climate action commitments in NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions, reported to UNFCCC). This should include an estimation of the financing gap and emphasis on air quality as a central focus in policy discussions during future Conference of Parties meetings (e.g., COP28).
  • Invest in the capacity and capability of governments to create home-grown solutions. Create the necessary forums/roundtables to encourage partnership, learning and collaboration between different levels of government (national, district, city level) and departments (e.g., health, economy, climate change). Consider creating political and/or non-political appointments to ensure air quality management plans are enforced and prioritised. 
  • Create incentive mechanisms to help commit governments to national air quality plans. Enshrine air quality targets into national/district-level law to help ensure air pollution priorities outlive political cycles and to demonstrate long-term political will for air quality action to prospective financers. Consider dedicating a share of national climate budgets to air pollution, and use part of the funding to build necessary government capacity and expertise.
  • Invest in the long-term capacity development of national air pollution experts. Seek out specialist training from capacity building organisations (e.g., C40, SEI, WRI, EPI, WHO, UNDP) on topics such as climate law, health impact assessment, and air quality monitoring solutions. Additionally, look to build a pipeline of local talent via international student scholarships, investment in domestic university offerings, and consider establishing international research partnerships with universities for cross-learning and training purposes (e.g., GEOHealth Hub).
  • Work with international donors / investors to identify the data and evidence requirements for major climate funds and invest accordingly. Prioritise climate finance funds with feasible eligibility criteria and accompanying technical support to help develop green credentials of planned investments.

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 and commit to the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration to improve health, climate, and deliver wider benefits for cities across the continent.
  • Maximise opportunities for cross-learning and partnership. Identify and collaborate with partners / advisor groups (e.g., C40, SEI, WRI, EPI) who can provide relevant and tailored trainings to local experts. Find opportunities to organise and participate in air quality forums/roundtables with partner organisations, neighbouring municipalities and district and national-level government. To help prioritise this agenda, consider introducing air quality appointments within local government to help join-up action across local industries and departments. 
  • Invest in the ground-level pollution attribution and gridded emissions inventories to close knowledge and data gaps across major cities. Combine with the deployment of low-cost, low maintenance air quality monitoring devices and data from reference grade monitors to produce a comprehensive understanding of PM2.5 concentrations across cities and the sources for evidence-based decision-making. 
  • Review high-emitting sectors such as energy, transport, industrial and power production, agriculture, and waste management to identify locally-tailored interventions to help reduce air pollution, whilst maximising health benefits, such as the city-specific measures highlighted in this report. 
  • Work with NGOs and other international partners to de-risk investments in potential air-quality interventions through the provision of funding for pilot projects. Once the efficacy of interventions is proved, continue to collaborate with partners to ensure proven air quality interventions moved beyond pilot-stage to city-wide and national-level action.

OECD-DAC donors and multilateral development banks should:

  • Request that international donors provide technical support to assist in country applications to green funds and consider easing data criteria to accessing climate funds.
  • Establish dedicated funds that countries can access to finance investments in air quality data monitoring capacities. Such data is often a prerequisite for obtaining other climate financing.
  • Make funding for air quality a stronger priority for finance and target new funding into overlooked regions such as 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. In doing so, improve reporting and tracking of spending on tackling air pollution, especially where funding comes from multiple government departments or agencies.
  • Work closely with governments during and towards the end of funding periods to find alternative financing for successful projects to ensure the longevity and scale-up. This may involve engaging private sector investors if the social and financial returns of interventions are especially compelling. 
  • Act as an advocate for clean air financing in international finance forums, ensuring philanthropic foundations and ODA prioritize air pollution in their funding decisions. Raise awareness among private sector investors about the economic and other co-benefits of taking action on air pollution.

Philanthropic foundations and research groups should:

  • Engage directly with city mayors and local leaders to target finance and support to evidence-based, locally developed solutions to address air quality, health and climate change in Africa. Work with local governments and other partners to help secure necessary financing for the scaling of successful pilot interventions. 
  • Help grow local talent. Continue to provide, and where necessary, scale up training on technical topics, ensuring sufficient consultation with stakeholders to identify knowledge gaps and needs. Consider establishing scholarship programmes to provide funded degrees and fellowships in relevant disciplines at leading international universities (e.g., atmospheric science, environmental economics, environmental law).
  • 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. Ensure that once funding windows are over, the ownership of monitoring equipment and access to air quality data is transferred to relevant custodians, ideally government entities where sufficient capacity and expertise exists. 
  • Expand the share of philanthropic investments for air quality from the current low of 0.6% in 2021. This should include new, dedicated programmatic funding for air pollution mitigation measures as well as awareness building amongst philanthropic organisations focussed on climate, health and economic development to help them see the investment potential of joined-up action. 

Private sector air quality companies should:

  • Share real-time and historical air pollution monitoring data and analysis more freely with government ministries and regional entities to better inform air quality policies and regulations.
  • Make a stronger case to governments for investments in air quality monitoring to help them identify evidence-based local interventions and measure, track progress against targets.

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. 

The African Union Commission (AUC) should: 

  • As a representative in international forums, the AUC should seek funds to establish regional climate finance bodies in collaboration with partner groups like the East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC). These bodies can assist in securing climate financing for national and district/city-level governments with limited capacity and financial expertise. Additionally, the AUC can encourage international financing bodies to create funds for air quality monitoring capacity and expertise. This will enable countries to develop evidence-based emission reduction measures and access climate funds with strict data criteria. In parallel, the AUC should advocate to relax data requirements by international financing organisations to lower access barriers to major climate funds for its Members.
  • As a convenor of member states, the AUC should work to harmonize national laws and regulations with cross-boundary implications (e.g., standardize maximum ages of imported vehicles and regional vehicle emission standards; impose continent-wide exports bans on catalytic converters at ports), and support clean cross-boundary infrastructure efforts (e.g., liquid petroleum gas (LPG) transportation, renewable energy sharing agreements, and railways).
  • As an advocate for clean air, the AUC can work to raise awareness and drive action on air pollution among policymakers at key continental forums (e.g., Africa Climate Week, Middle East and North Africa Climate week, AMCEN, COP). Additionally, it should recognize air pollution as a significant health burden within AUC strategic plans and health strategies, and make a formal commitment to take action against air pollution on the continent.

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 are using critical climate meetings to look for rapid, scalable, economically sound solutions to avoid environmental and humanitarian disaster. Tackling 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.