Africa, in the early stages of growth, is battling growing air pollution, energy security concerns and gradual increase in carbon emissions. Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa have the highest population-weighted annual average PM2.5 concentrations, as per the State of Global Air 2020. The rising number of vehicles is aggravating these concerns and increasing toxic exposure risk. Even though the level of motorisation and vehicle ownership level in Africa is still low, it is rising rapidly and is largely based on very old, used and imported polluting vehicles. While some countries have made the transition to 50 ppm sulphur fuels, the rest are still using high-sulphur fuels, which can be as high as 500–5,000 ppm. This is obstructing the use of cleaner vehicles and introduction of tighter emissions standards of Euro IV across the region. Even though several countries have started to take action to fix the age of vehicles and impose higher taxes on older vehicles to control the influx of old, cheap and polluting vehicles, these vehicles still dominate the fleet.
While more enabling strategies are needed to support the acceleration and harmonisation of the roadmap for clean fuel and clean internal combustion engines (ICE) in the countries of Africa, there will still be a time lag to harmonise with the global best emissions standards. But there is an opportunity for Africa to sidestep the ICE curve and leapfrog to zero emissions electric vehicles to decarbonise and eliminate toxic exposures from vehicles. In fact, this is a learning that is already emerging from the rest of the developing countries in Asia, including vehicle-producing countries like India, which are now shaping strategies to accelerate the transition to zero emissions. There is considerable common ground among the developing countries, including Africa, which are now taking steps to build this programme.