POLICY OPTIONS FOR ACTION

ATMOSPHERE

Issues

The issues range from extreme weather events, such as drought and floods related to climate variability, to access to energy for the majority of the people in the region. These extremes in weather mean too much rain in some areas or too little rain in others. The consequence of such extremes is that ecosystem functions are disrupted, with disastrous consequences for biodiversity and the people who are affected. For example, both drought and floods negatively impact food production and food security as well as hydroelectricity generation which supplies energy for domestic and industrial use.

Oxides of sulphur and nitrogen emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels such as coal and diesel in the power generation and smelting industries are important contributors to air pollution. In trying to address the negative aspects of the atmosphere there is a tendency to focus on such emissions and air pollution, while taking the assets inherent in the atmosphere for granted.

The atmosphere, and maintaining its integrity, is essential for environmental and human well-being. All weather takes place in the troposphere, which is 14 km above the Earth’s surface. Weather patterns and climate are key components in Africa, influencing seasonal and annual variations in temperature and rainfall patterns in and between sub-regions and countries. The stratosphere and the ozone layer, which are above the troposphere, absorb ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Without absorption, ultraviolet radiation is hazardous to life, and the Africa region is part of international efforts to phase out the use of fluorocarbon compounds which deplete the ozone layer.

Outlook

With the slow pace of industrialization, many African countries will continue to be minor contributors to industrial air pollution. In the foreseeable future, low-income consumers will continue to purchase and use reconditioned vehicles that fail to meet air quality standards and that may contribute to increased levels of local vehicular emissions. Some industrialists’ antipathy against air quality standards is likely to continue for a while, especially given the political tendency to pitch environmental concerns against those for employment and economic empowerment of the poor. The uptake of cleaner production technologies is likely to remain slow, in line with the overall pace of industrialization. However, increasing involvement of the private sector in the formulation and implementation of air quality standards may improve the efficiency and compliance of local industries, as illustrated by the example of the cement industry in Uganda. The monitoring and enforcement of atmospheric quality standards is likely to remain a challenge in the face of lack of investment in institutional and human capacity-building.

A serious problem across Africa is that of indoor air pollution, given the heavy dependence of the population on biomass fuel for cooking and the inadequate ventilation of the kitchen (Gordon and others 2004). The respiratory diseases associated with indoor air pollution may persist for a while unless measures are taken to introduce affordable cleaner energy systems for the poor.