Clouds of smoke and tooting of horns welcome visitors to the old styled Ghanaian capital of Accra, which was recently named among the fastest growing cities in Africa.
These smokes and ugly noises are predominantly generated by the rickety commercial vehicles such as vans, buses and 'trotros', used over past the 30 years.
Ironically, this problem is not limited to Accra alone, but all the major cities in Ghana.
Besides the health effects of these vehicular emissions, local and foreign investors have been blamed for failing to take advantage of these vehicular emissions to build business empire(s) out of it.
Emissions from petrol cars have been dramatically reduced by the introduction of catalytic converters, which oxidise pollutants. When compared to petrol cars without catalysts, catalyst cars have much lower emissions, at the expense of carbon dioxide ( CO2 ) emissions, which increase due to the oxidation of carbon monoxide to CO2.
As a consequence of this, a catalyst car will also use slightly more fuel and become less efficient. However, despite these improvements, petrol cars with catalysts still produce more CO and HC than diesel cars, although exhaust emissions of NOx (a generic term for mono-nitrogen oxides) and particulates are much lower than diesel cars. In fact particulate emissions from petrol cars are so low that they are not routinely measured.
Diesel fuel contains more energy per litre than petrol and coupled with the fact that diesel engines are more efficient than petrol engines, diesel cars are more efficient to run. Diesel fuel contains no lead and emissions of the regulated pollutants (carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides) are lower than those from petrol cars without a catalyst.
However, when compared to petrol cars with a catalyst, diesels have higher emissions of NOx and much higher emissions of particulate matter.
An investment expert, Adu Gyamfi, added that instead of Ghanaian investors thinking of leaving their comfort zones to partner government to invest in technologies that will turn the un-nurture multi-billion dollar vehicular emissions industry into cash making one, they (investors) sit aloof and blame present and successive governments for lack investment opportunities.
'How can you say that there are not investment opportunities when this untapped vehicular emissions industry is lying fallow', he asked.
He noted: 'The developed economies, including the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom are investing in technologies which turn the vehicular emissions menace into profit making ventures.
In these economies, although there are still experiencing the global financial meltdown, which began in 2008, they are able to create some jobs for their citizens in the vehicular emissions industry'.
Similarly, investments in the vehicular emissions industry would provide jobs for the teeming unemployed youth in Ghana.
Mr. Gyamfi's and his colleagues' call was supported by the "Global Fuel Economy Initiative" (GFEI) , a partnership of the FIA Foundation, the IEA, the International Transport Forum (ITF), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The initiative has estimated that a 50 per cent improvement in fuel economy is achievable by using technologies that have already been commercialized within the decade - and would save over 6 billion barrels of oil per year by 2050, and cut CO2 emissions from cars nearly in half. This is known as the "50 by 50 Initiative".
In order to realise these benefits, strong vehicle fuel economy and/or greenhouse gas standards will be necessary, according to experts.
The GFEI has realized that there are many technical and policy-related obstacles to the implementation of fuel efficient vehicle policies, particularly in developing countries, including Ghana, and as a result, has identified its core issues, including data collection and analysis of fuel economy potentials by country and region; support for national and regional policy-making efforts; and outreach to stakeholders (vehicle manufacturers)
The "50 by 50 Initiative" has already undertaken work in Mexico, with the hope to lead Latin America in establishing science-based, CAFE-Type standards in order to improve the fuel economy of its fleet. This has resulted into legally-binding standards in Mexico since 2010.
Fuel economy programmes include both numeric standards and fiscal incentives to improve the energy efficiency of individual vehicles per unit of distance travelled.
In today's technology-driven world, new technologies offer great promise to drastically improve vehicle fuel economy, Edmond Cheyuo, a senior official of Ghana's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority explained.
He noted 'Realizing such technological promise is contingent on strong policy. Technology development also responds to price. Relatively high oil prices, for example, have provided an incentive for manufactures and consumers to build and buy smaller and more fuel efficient cars'.
An Economist at the University of Ghana, Emmanuel Abbey, noted that despite the recent financial crisis, global oil demand has steadily increased, largely due to rapid motorisation taking place in developing countries including Ghana.
Oil demand growth is primarily driven by growth in the vehicle population, especially private passenger vehicles, as well as total vehicle distance travelled, he added.
United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs noted: 'Controlling the energy demand and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from personal vehicles has become a major challenge.
'Curbing vehicle population growth, reducing travel demand and improving vehicle fuel efficiency are three key elements to reducing overall oil demand. A wide variety of approaches to address these three areas have been introduced in different parts of the world'.
Most industrialized countries have established programmes to address transportation- related GHG emissions. Fuel economy programmes and GHG emission targets, either mandatory or voluntary; have proven to be among the most cost-effective tools in controlling oil demand and GHG emissions from motor vehicles.
The United States was the first country to establish fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles after the 1970's oil crisis.
However, standards have remained unchanged for nearly a quarter century from the early 80s to late 2000s, while other countries - especially European countries, Japan, and recently China and the State of California of the US - have moved forward, establishing or tightening GHG or fuel economy standards.
Ghana's Road Traffic Regulations 2012, LI 2180, stipulates safety on roads. However, the issue of vehicular emission has not been sufficiently covered to indicate the standards for the country.
For instance, Regulation Two states, "A person shall not drive a vehicle on the road unless the engine of that motor is covered and does not pose a danger to other users of the road."
While it is expedient to arrest and prosecute owners of such vehicles on grounds of causing harm to other road users, some of the drivers said such a move would deny them their daily bread.
A driver on the Bubuashie-Circle road, Samuel Atta, said he had been driving his vehicle for close to 12 years now and did not see why he should be arrested for doing genuine business.
Luckily, in recent years, recognizing the threat of climate change and potential oil shortages, efforts to further strengthen vehicle standards have been intensified globally, including a series of efforts by the United States.
Similarly, in Ghana, plans are underway to develop a Roadmap to Emissions and Fuel Economy Standards, the Deputy Director of Environmental Protection (EPA), Esi Nerquaye revealed.
To this end, the EPA, with the assistance of the World Bank, GEF and AFD, under the Urban Transport Project is procuring a consultant to develop the road map and its associated terms of reference to promulgate a nationwide vehicular emissions control system, which would also include fuel economy requirements, she added.
Madam Nerquaye indicated: 'The consultant will assist the EPA map out the programme of action for development of a nationwide vehicular emission control system'.
Activities will include preliminary analysis of existing data to identify reasonable vehicular emission reductions targets; identify various studies to be carried out and policy issues to be addressed in the development of a vehicle emissions control system and fuel economy targets, the deputy EPA head noted.
These, Madam Nerquaye stated, might include: legal and institutional frameworks and mechanisms required for such system; and design of a compliance system compatibility with governance and accountability.
On the part of the Ministry of Transport (MoT), an Assistant Planning Officer at the Ministry, Edward Agbodjan assured that 'the Ministry would support international agreements made by the government in order to make an appropriate contribution to climate and carbon reduction targets.'
He continued: 'The Ministry would encourage the use of public transport, walking and the use of two-wheelers as well as encouraging lifestyle travel changes at work and at home to reduce the need to travel and thereby reducing congestion and use of fuel.'
Mr. Agbodjan was quick to add that the MoT would further promote alternatives to travel to reduce greenhouse emissions. These are methods of reducing the need to travel through the use of information and communication technologies and flexible-working practices, he emphasized.