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Air pollution and climate change – a deadly duo for Africa

Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to human health and is responsible for about 7 million deaths each year globally and 1 million in Africa alone. As Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change, air pollution and climate change must be tackled together and are often interlinked.

Jenny Wickman / Published on 2 November 2022

As of today, 99% of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits. Many vulnerable groups in Africa, such as women, children, the elderly, and the poor, are most at risk from the combined negative health impacts of air pollution and climate change. However, the new Integrated Assessment of Air Pollution and Climate Change for Sustainable Development in Africa launched at COP27 brings hope for the future by identifying five key areas that are crucial for African leaders to address in order to fight climate change, prevent air pollution, and protect human health.

The assessment, made by the African Union Commission, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the UN Environment Programme, developed by African scientists in a process led by SEI, is the first of its kind integrated assessment of air pollution and climate change for the continent and provides a robust scientific basis for action towards clean air in Africa. It shows how African leaders can and should act urgently on the following key areas: transport, residential, energy, agriculture, and waste, to reduce air pollution and benefit through premature death prevention, a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, improved food security and significantly contribute to the global efforts to keep global warming below 1.5°C and limiting the negative effects of regional climate change.

By 2063, Africa’s population, as well as its economy, is predicted to have proliferated, with Africa’s population increasing by 32% by 2030 and 137% by 2063. The substantial population growth will be accompanied by a massive demand for transport and food, two key areas identified in the assessment and of importance for African governments to address, to lower GHG emissions and air pollution. With such a giant increase in transport and food production, it is imperative that air pollution and emissions from these industries must be clean and sustainable, as ensuring zero hunger by 2063 will require almost three times more food than today.

SEI Africa Centre Director Philip Osano is optimistic about Africa’s ability to tackle climate change and reduce air pollution.

We have provided data for all the African countries on air quality and climate and if they act on these five key areas, Africa will be able to achieve objectives of the Africa Union Agenda 2063.

SEI Africa Centre Director Philip Osano

Most of the solutions in the assessment have already been successfully implemented in different parts of Africa. Regional agreements have introduced clean fuel and vehicle emissions standards, and electric vehicle imports are on the rise. Many cities are working to increase public transport and non-motorized transport options.

Clean cooking options are increasing across Africa, many African countries have committed to reducing oil and gas methane emissions, pledging to eliminate 45% by 2025 and 60-70% by 2030, and more than 25 countries on the continent have joined the Global Methane Pledge, which will cut human-caused methane emissions at least 30 percent by 2030. Additionally, Africa has massive solar energy potential and countries have begun setting ambitious targets for renewable energy expansion under their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The agriculture and waste sector are also becoming more sustainable with innovative public-private partnerships.

Breathing clean air is a universal human right because this is what supports peoples’ wellbeing and economic productivity. The 37 measures identified through the Integrated Assessment on Air Pollution and Climate Change for Sustainable Development in Africa should be implemented concertedly across the continent to contribute to the African Union Commission's Agenda 2063 and the 'Africa We Want'

Dr Alice Akinyi Kaudia, Former Kenyan environment secretary and coordinating co-chair of the assessment

The assessment’s recommendations are closely aligned with the key priorities of Agenda 2063 and with the goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Nearly all the recommendations can be found in at least one African NDC and are currently identified as contributing to achieving national climate change mitigation goals.

Despite the disturbingly high death rates linked to air pollution on the continent, Africa is responsible for merely a small fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions but bears an outsized burden of adverse climate impacts. Hence, the African continent needs help in tackling air pollution. All countries outside of Africa must drastically reduce their emissions to help limit warming to 1.5°C to help Africa avoid the worst impacts of climate change and reduce the cost of adaptation.

The continent produces 13% of methane emissions, making methane reductions a critically important area of investment. Science, business, finance, non-state actors, governments, development organizations, etc. must join hands to pool resources and implement the Assessment’s measures to achieve significant, impactful change. Countries must partner with and support African state and non-state actors to ensure the success of initiatives like the Clean Air Program.

Without action, economic growth compounded by population growth, unplanned urbanization, and unsustainable lifestyles will exacerbate pressures on resources, the environment, and human health, and could increase inequalities and limit Africa’s ability to achieve sustainable development. Forecasts show that without changes in policy, greenhouse gas emissions risk tripling by 2063 and household air pollution will continue to cause about 170 000 premature deaths per year in 2030 and 150 000 by 2063.

Written by


Kevin Hicks

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Philip Osano
Philip Osano

Centre Director

SEI Africa

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