The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) is assisting African countries to adopt cleaner fuels for their rapidly growing economies.
UNEP Programme Officer Transport Unit Jane Akumu told a media briefing in Nairobi late Thursday that the measures will help to improve air quality in the continent.
"We hope that by 2020 the entire continent will use fuels that are clean enough to abide by global standards," Akumu said on the sidelines of the UN Environmental Assembly underway in Nairobi.
She noted that currently, the annual average particular matter levels of the air of African cities are well above the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
Morocco, Mauritius and Tunisia are leading the continent in adopting low sulphur diesel. East Africa is also moving towards cleaner fuels.
Kenya's oil refinery produces diesel with 10,000 parts per million of sulphur. Kenya, together with its neighbors in the East African Community, will begin using diesel with 50 ppm of sulphur beginning in 2015.
Fuels with high Sulphur content reduce the durability of engines due to corrosion. "It is time for Africa to take advantage of new technologies," he said.
Within East Africa, UNEP is assisting Kenya and Uganda to ensure vehicles on their roads are not polluting their environment.
"We will assist them to put in place laws that will provide financial incentives for the importation of fuel efficient cars," Akumu said. The programme officer noted that monitoring is key to documentation of impacts and progress.
Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) Head of Secretariat Helena Valdes said that Africa need to embrace sustainable transport models.
"Mass transport is the way to go because you can't build enough roads to accommodate growing number of personal vehicles," Valdes said.
She urged African government to put in place policies that will encourage the adoption of Bus Rapid Transport Systems which are seen as more efficient transportation systems for cities.
Pollutants also have a heavy toll for the economy as a result of health costs related to respiratory ailments. CCAC said that Africa's children suffer long term effects from indoor pollution caused by cooking methods that use biomass.
The major causes of outdoor pollution include transport and industrial emissions.
According to a UNEP study, the cost of air pollution in African cities is equivalent to 2.7 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.
A recent study by the University of Nairobi also indicated that the annual economic loss in Kenya due to vehicle emissions is 1.3 billion U.S. dollars.
Kenya has removed taxes on clean cooking gas so as to discourage the use of kerosene, fire wood and charcoal for cooking.
Valdes said that the exposure to air that is ladden with particular matter leads to a reduction of life expectancy.
"Research has shown that countries that have phased out leaded gasoline experienced a drop in blood lead levels," she said.