Africa could account for more than half of the world's particle pollution by the year 2030, according to a study published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The paper, published Tuesday, cites Africa's booming urban population and growth in mining, oil, and biofuel industries as the main drivers behind the projected surge in particle pollution, which has been linked to a variety of respiratory ailments and even cancer.

The study's authors found that in 2005, Africa accounted for just 5 percent of the world's nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide emissions, and up to 20 percent of organic carbon. Over the coming years, however, the continent's population is expected to explode, particularly in urban areas. The United Nations projects that Africa could account for 40 percent of the world's population by 2100, with its urban population doubling from 2000 to 2030. In the absence of stronger emissions regulations, the continent would see a "considerable increase" in particle pollution, the authors write — perhaps as high as 55 percent of the global total.

A call for stronger regulations

The paper suggests some region-specific regulations that could help stem this growth. Regulations on the use of biofuels and restrictions on the use of two-wheeled vehicles would be the most efficient way to curb emissions in the western and eastern part of Africa, while stronger regulations on coal would be the best way to cut emissions in its southern regions, the authors write.

Doing that, however, may prove difficult. South Africa is home to a massive coal-mining industry, which is used to meet the majority of its energy needs. In 2012, coal comprised 72 percent of the country's energy consumption, followed by oil (22 percent) and natural gas (3 percent).