Ghana charts an integrated path for tackling air pollution and climate change

by CCAC secretariat - 5 December, 2019
Though they share both sources and solutions, climate change and air pollution are often treated as separate issues. Addressing them together could create immediate and substantive effects for the world’s most vulnerable by reducing climate change and delivering local health and development benefits.

When women from Ghana’s Volta Basin list the reasons fuel-efficient cookstoves have changed their lives, mitigating climate change doesn’t top the list. 

“They are not talking about the reduction in emissions from the wood fuels or the burning that takes place, they are talking about the heat, they’re talking about their health, they’re talking about the amount they have to spend on wood—these are the immediate benefits, they may not even talk about climate change at all,” said Peter Dery, the National Climate Change Coordinator at Ghana’s Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology.

Traditional cookstoves emit black carbon which is a short-lived climate pollutant that contributes to global warming. They’re also, however, toxic in a more immediate sense: pollutants from cookstoves cause almost 4 million premature deaths around the world every year.

Cookstoves are just one example of why it makes sense for developing countries to marry action on climate change and air pollution: Not only will it help save the planet, it will boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve people’s health.

“The sources of the emissions that cause changes to the climate, they’re also sources of important air pollutants so if we don’t take a low emissions pathway we’re consigning a lot of people to ill health, to premature death, to chronic impacts related to things like asthma” said Johan Kuylenstierna, a member of Climate and Clean Air Coalition's (CCAC) scientific advisory panel. “There are a lot of local reasons to take action and then this can also contribute to reducing the impact on global climate change.”

It’s also why, with the help of the CCAC, Ghana has become a leader in doing so. Critical in helping the country forge this integrated path was CCAC’s SNAP Initiative—which stands for Supporting National Action & Planning on Short-lived climate pollutants. The initiative helps countries like Ghana take a holistic approach by looking at all of the emissions —short-lived climate pollutants, greenhouse gases, and air pollutants—to determine what set of actions will be most effective, both for Ghana and for the future of the planet.

Ghana leads the charge

With the CCAC’s help, Ghana aligned its national action plan on short-lived climate pollutants with its Nationally Determined Contribution (the country’s internationally agreed-upon reduction in greenhouse gases) and included several measures to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

The plan outlines 16 measures to mitigate short-lived climate pollutants, including getting people access to 2 million fuel-efficient cookstoves. Other measures include having ten percent of electricity come from renewable sources like solar, reducing forest burning by 40 percent (a practice used for farmland and also to produce charcoal for cooking), and implementing soot-free buses, particularly in the capital city Accra.

If successfully implemented, the plan could have major results for Ghana’s contribution to climate change and for the immediate health and development of the country. Indeed, it could lead to emissions reductions of 56 percent for methane and 61 percent for black carbon while avoiding 2,560 premature deaths and reducing crop loss by 40 percent.

How did Ghana do it?

Despite the myriad benefits of tackling air pollution and climate change together, developing and implementing a national plan that integrates them is an expensive and complicated process, particularly for a developing country. This work involves a complex analysis of all of country’s emissions to determine the most promising interventions and then intricate collaboration across government ministries to agree upon and eventually implement those measures. Support from the CCAC SNAP Initiative not only helps streamline a process that can easily become convoluted, it ensures that work on climate change and air pollution isn’t being duplicated across government ministries that aren’t communicating with each other.

One goal of the initiative is to increase awareness of the link between the two throughout national and local governments. As is common throughout the world, many Ghanaians thought of action on climate change as a future benefit for the globe, rather than one that could directly and quickly benefit Ghanaians.

“We were very much surprised by the extent to which, when these policies are implemented, the benefit that you can get locally for Ghana, that was a very interesting surprise for us,” said Daniel Benefor from Ghana’s Environment Protection Agency about knowledge gained through the CCAC SNAP Initiative. 

Being able to translate these benefits into language that individual citizens understand is an important tool for government officials to build support from their constituencies for these kinds of policies.

“Emissions from the cookstoves will not immediately change the climate, that’s not going to happen today or tomorrow, [instead] it will contribute to long term climate change reductions,” said Dery of how everyday Ghanaians might think about one example of these measures. “But in terms of indoor pollution, people’s health will immediately change and that’s more convincing to an ordinary person on the street.”

Of course, it isn’t just cookstoves. Another issue that affects the lives of Ghanaians every day while also having a strong link to climate change is transportation. Over three decades, the urban population of the capital city of Accra has more than tripled, from 4 to 14 million people. As a result, the city’s traffic congestion is increasingly oppressive. In response, Ghana is focused on revitalizing its public transportation sector to draw cars off the road. However, the city’s current, outdated bus system is a major contributor to air pollution. In another example of the effects of this kind of integrated action, Ghana has decided to buy a new fleet of soot-free buses. While the initial replacements will be much-greener compressed natural gas buses, the next round of buses will be electric.

Another important goal of the SNAP Initiative is helping countries to coordinate between different government departments working on air quality and climate planning. It’s an aspect of the work that many involved found to have significant unanticipated benefits.

“The whole spectrum of the process requires us to use existing teams that are multisectoral, it means that you have to bring everybody who matters to the table and the value addition here is that everyone is part of the process from the outset: The Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, the National Development Planning Committee, the Ministry of Finance—these are all key stakeholders,” says Benefor. “It’s important to build consensus from the beginning.”

Integrating action on climate and clean air, it seems, can have ripple effects by helping to unite disparate government ministries under a single goal.

SNAP around the world

Developing countries like Ghana have contributed minimally to the emissions causing climate change but they are projected to be the countries that will feel the effects first and worst. In Ghana’s Volta Basin, dry seasons have already gotten longer and the Volta River could reduce by 24 percent by 2050 thanks to decreased rainfall and faster evaporation. Ghana has long been a global leader in development in poverty reduction—the country cut its poverty rate and its under-5 mortality in half in the span of two decades, but climate change threatens to undo many of these gains.

Ghana isn’t alone, which is why integrated action on pollution and climate change is an attractive focus for countries around the world: Not only will it help save the planet, it will boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve people’s health.

In fact, scientific assessments by the UN Environmental Programme has found that comprehensive reductions of short-lived climate pollutants could avoid 2.4 million premature deaths and 52 million tonnes of crop losses around the world. 

This is why work in Ghana is only the beginning and the Coalition’s SNAP initiative is involved in similar work in countries around the world. Mexico, Bangladesh, and Columbia have all developed a first version of their National Planning document and are in the process of refining it. Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, Nigeria, and Peru are all starting a national planning process and have already put teams in place and implemented trainings. Eight CCAC countries including Central African Republic and Togo have also pledged to include short-lived climate pollutants in their internationally determined contributions.

The effects of climate change are already felt in these countries—but so are the challenges of daily survival.

“The manifestations are clearly here with us, we feel it every day, in whatever sector you’re talking about—in agriculture, in the economy,” said Dery. “For us it’s an issue of development, it’s an issue of survival, it’s an issue of our existence, without some of these things being resolved I don’t know how people will survive.”

As the effects of climate change increase, it certainly will get harder for people to survive—but if these countries get support integrating climate and air pollution mitigation it’s almost certain that more will.

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