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Air pollution in Africa

Governments spending 36 times more aid on prolonging fossil fuel use in Africa than tackling air pollution
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Smoking fumes from a bus in Ethiopia, along the road from Addis Ababa to Debre Lebanos

From 2015-2021, governments gave less than 1% of their aid budgets to projects tackling outdoor air pollution around the world, while pumping four times as much into projects that prolong fossil fuel use, new research from Clean Air Fund reveals.

The report calls for far more dedicated funding to tackle air pollution, as well as greater joined-up funding for low-carbon energy solutions that address climate change and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. 

New fossil fuel investment ‘madness’

Fossil fuel combustion accounts for two-thirds of human exposure to outdoor air pollution, which kills approximately 4.5 million people every year.

It is also the main driver of climate change, with UN secretary-general Antonio Gutierrez warning recently that investing in new fossil fuel production and power plants is ‘moral and economic madness’.

The 2022 IPCC report on climate mitigation showed that the financial value of health benefits from improving air quality alone would far exceed the costs of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Air quality funding

The State of Global Air Quality Funding 2022 report provides the only global snapshot of projects tackling air pollution by donor governments and philanthropic organisations.

It highlights that a huge opportunity to quickly realise multiple health, social and economic benefits through more joined-up approaches is being missed, partly because of siloed thinking by funders.

‘The figures are stark. We have to cut support for fossil fuel projects and switch investments to power, mobility and industrial solutions that do less health and economic harm. Funding air pollution reduction makes good sense – it’s a joined-up approach to improving human health and tackling climate change at the same time.’

Executive director of the Clean Air Fund

Air pollution in Africa

This chronic oversight and underfunding is particularly stark across Africa, which received just 0.3% of development assistance for air pollution from 2015-2021 despite this being the continent’s second largest killer after HIV/AIDs.

Governments spent 36 times more aid on prolonging fossil fuel use across the continent than tackling air pollution from 2015-21.

‘One of the best solutions to our greatest challenges is staring us in the face. By investing in cleaning the air we can save lives, unlock sustainable development and turbo-charge climate efforts. At COP27 we need a candid and constructive discussion on how to move away from fossil fuels, and what development partners and governments must do to support that, for everybody’s sake.’

Head of Clean Air Fund’s Ghana Office

Air quality funding

Between 2015 and 2021, official development funders committed $11 billion to air quality projects globally, compared to $46.6 billion to projects that prolonged the use of fossil fuels.

The report also highlights that amongst donor governments funding for coal-reliant projects dropped dramatically from 2019 to 2020, by 95%. This suggests that external pressure to shift from coal may be making an impact.

Grant funding, which is much needed to avoid saddling low-income countries with more loan debt, represented only 6% of total air quality commitments. 

Air quality funding was concentrated in a handful of Asian countries, while in regions such as Africa and Latin America it lagged behind. 

In 2020, just 0.4% of international public climate finance – the share of international development funding contributing to the goals of the Paris agreement – went to projects explicitly tackling air pollution, despite these problems sharing the same root causes.

Philanthropic funding

The report also looks at funding from philanthropic foundations. It reveals that in 2021, total philanthropic air quality funding rose by 36% to an all-time high of $63.8 million – but remains less than 0.1% of total philanthropic spending.

This jump appears largely driven by increased funding from a handful of major foundations, suggesting a shift towards greater interest in the issue.

The US, China and India continued to receive the bulk of philanthropic funding for air quality, while Africa, Latin America and the rest of Asia lagged behind. 

The majority of foundation-funded air quality projects are simultaneously aiming to tackle climate change, however, just 2% of total foundation climate mitigation funding is realising the health and economic benefits associated with improved air quality.

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