6th May 2022

All of us today have, in the past 12–1 hour, engaged in the most foundational exercise of self-preservation — cooking and eating. Imagine a scenario where you inadvertently sign your death certificate each time you engage in this necessary life activity. Sadly, this is the reality of about 248,000 people across the West Africa sub-region who lose their lives every year because of indoor pollution. The soot and black carbon, short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) emanating from their cooking, are choking them. It does not get any sadder than having an activity that is supposed to sustain life, extinguishing life. But indoor pollution is not the only risk. Imagine risking your life simply by breathing. An estimated 120,000 people in the sub-region lose their lives prematurely simply for breathing ambient air. Ambient air pollution emanating from the transport, waste, and industrial sectors is a leading risk factor. The economic cost of these risks exceeds $1billion each year. Climate change is closely related to pollution because significant sources of greenhouse gases are also the primary sources of air-polluting emissions. For example, an estimated 80% of the population uses unclean biomass for cooking. This practice, however, degrades forests, resulting in increased land-based emissions and reduced capacity of forests to buffer against high-intensity weather events such as floods. A 30-year satellite study has found that West Africa is experiencing a 30–100% increase in storm intensity because of increased deforestation. Heavily deforested areas of West Africa now see twice as many storms as they experienced 30 years ago. This reality means that air pollution and climate change need to be addressed together.

Last year, at COP-26, the Global Methane Pledge was launched. Participants joining the Pledge have agreed to take voluntary actions to contribute to a collective effort to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030, which could reduce over 0.2˚C of the estimated global warming by 2050 and generate significant health and food security benefits. This reduction is considered essential to achieve the lower bound of the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C global warming by the end of this century. To date, more than 111 countries have signed the Pledge. There are significant opportunities for ambitious methane mitigation actions in the region to contribute to the goals of the global methane pledge.

This calls for integrated strategies that simultaneously reduce GHGs, air pollutants, SLCPs, and climate adaptation benefits.

Accordingly, our work within the Climate and Clean Air Coalition- a global coalition of more than 150 State and non-State partners committed to taking action on SLCPs., seeks to answer one question — what strategies are most effective at reducing SLCPs, including methane and achieving simultaneous climate change and health benefits for a particular country or continent? Our deliberations today will be to answer this fundamental question. In doing so, we will hear about experiences from , to include SLCPs in their updated NDCs, among other experiences we can learn from. As we get underway, three core factors need to form the pillars of our deliberations.

First, our actions must align with achieving a just transition within the framework of net-zero commitments. I will illustrate this with an example. The largest economy in this sub-region and Africa, Nigeria lost over 97,000ha of its forests in 2020 alone, primarily driven by charcoal cooking. At the same time, over 200,000 lives were lost in 2016 because of household air pollution. In addition, despite having 2.7% of the global population, the country contributes a mere 0.36% of global CO2 emissions. These facts alone make the transition away from charcoal and biomass an urgent imperative. The country that has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060, which is a fossil fuel exporter and holds the 9th largest natural gas reserve globally, can invest in natural gas as a transition fuel instead of expanding fossil fuel subsidies on kerosene. Part of the $7billion expended on these subsidies can be invested in natural gas as a transition fuel. Burning natural gas for energy results in 27– 42% fewer emissions of nearly all air pollutants and carbon dioxide than burning coal or petroleum products to produce equal energy. Such an approach where transitioning to cleaner fuels does not hurt but rather enhances the socioeconomic wellbeing of populations needs to be prioritised.

Second, we must tap the informal sector investments to drive this just transition. Charcoal burning is a significant livelihood activity in west Africa. In some countries, wood charcoal generates more income for the local people than groundnut, cocoa and palm oil. How incentives can be put in place to re-direct investments of these informal sector actors to prioritise cleaner, more affordable alternatives such as fuel briquettes and biogas needs to be a critical aspect that is discussed today.

Third, we must build on already established successes. From instituting national air quality standards & regulations to acting in critical sectors that are leading sources of short-lived climate pollutants — transport, open-air waste burning, indoor pollution, and industry, countries in the sub-region have put in place actions, programmes, policies, laws, and regulations to improve air quality and combat SLCP. For example, 5 out of the 17 countries in the sub-region have established ambient air quality standards. Three countries have invested in expanding public transport, and some have enhanced vehicle emissions standards to minimise transport emissions. Other countries have legislation prohibiting the open burning of wastes and vegetable residues and policies and legislation for municipal waste collection and management to minimise waste emissions. Three countries have put in place incentives to increase investment in energy efficiency, clean technology, renewable energy, and pollution control towards reducing industrial-scale emissions. All these are ready ongoing actions that need to be investigated so that actions of this programme target bridging gaps to enhance further these successes and cross-hybridise and share lessons between countries.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen and deliberating the above, we will also hear preliminary results from the forthcoming CCAC Africa Assessment of air pollution and climate change mitigation, focusing on Short-Lived Climate Pollutant emission reduction pathways. This assessment will identify key actions that countries in the region can take to maximise benefits for our health while mitigating climate change and increasing our adaptation and resilience to its impacts. The assessment is being undertaken as a partnership between CCAC, AUC, SEI, and UNEP Regional Office for Africa.

With continental lessons, let us all engage and contribute towards enriching discussions that culminate in clear implementation and investment opportunities for reducing SLCPs in West Africa.

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