ABUJA, Nigeria, December 8, 2016 (ENS) – Five more West African countries have agreed to ban the import of Europe’s dirty high-sulfur diesel fuel, a move that will slash vehicle emissions and help an estimated 250 million people breathe cleaner air.

Following Ghana’s announcement in November, the countries of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire agreed on December 1, at a meeting convened by the UN Environmental Programme in Abuja, to introduce strict standards to ensure cleaner, low sulfur diesel fuel and tougher vehicle emissions standards.

Lagos

Traffic in Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, June 3, 2013 (Photo by Ben Freeman)

A report by the Swiss nonprofit Public Eye in September exposed how European trading companies exploited the weak regulatory standards in West African countries, allowing for the export of fuels with sulfur levels up to 300 times higher than levels permitted in Europe.

The public pressure generated by media coverage of Public Eye’s report, “Dirty Diesel” as well as the campaigns by Public Eye’s partner organizations have led these five countries to announce the reduction of sulphur levels for imported diesel to 50 parts per million, or ppm.

In Togo, by comparison, sulphur levels in diesel can be as high as 10,000 ppm.

In Nigeria, the current limit is 3,000 ppm. As Africa’s largest fuel market, Nigeria’s move could trigger fuel improvements in other West African countries.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, UNEP, said, “West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe. Their decision to set strict new standards for cleaner, safer fuels and advanced vehicle emission standards shows they are placing the health of their people first.”

“Their move is an example for countries around the world to follow,” Solheim said. “Air pollution is killing millions of people every year and we need to ensure that all countries urgently introduce cleaner fuels and vehicles to help reduce the shocking statistics.”

Reducing the emissions of the global fleet is essential for cutting urban air pollution and climate emissions. A combination of low sulfur fuels with advanced vehicles standards can reduce harmful emissions of vehicles by as much as 90 percent.

filling station

Floating petrol and diesel filling station in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, a petroleum-producing region. (Photo by Stakeholder Democracy)

Alongside the new standards, the West African group has agreed to upgrade the operations of their national refineries, both public and privately owned, to produce fuels of the same standards by 2020.

UN Environment has been supporting countries in West Africa to develop policies and standards to stop the practice of importing fuel with dangerously high sulphur levels and introduce cleaner fuels and vehicles.

Nigeria’s Environment Minister Amina Mohamed said, “For 20 years Nigeria has not been able to address the vehicle pollution crisis due to the poor fuels we have been importing. Today we are taking a huge leap forward – limiting sulfur in fuels from 3000 parts per million to 50 parts per million, this will result in major air quality benefits in our cities and will allow us to set modern vehicle standards.”

In The Hague December 2, Minister Mohamed joined the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen to take stock of the progress that is being made in improving the quality of fuels being exported from Dutch ports to West Africa.

Minister Ploumen hails from The Netherlands, source of much of the high sulfur fuel that is exported to West Africa. “The recent report from the NGO Public Eye made abundantly clear that coordinated action is needed to stop the practice of exporting dirty fuels to West Africa,” she said.

“I am very pleased West African governments quickly decided to introduce standards that will help accessing European standard quality fuels. Their people deserve cleaner air, better health and a cleaner environment,” Ploumen said. “I commend UN Environment for their excellent work.”

UN Environment is hosting the Secretariat of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, a global public-private partnership that supports a shift to cleaner fuels and vehicles worldwide.

When the Partnership started promoting low sulfur fuels in 2005, not a single low-income or middle-income country used low sulfur fuels. Last year, East African countries moved to low sulfur fuels. Today, 23 countries have shifted to low sulfur fuels and another 40 are on their way.

UN Environment also is hosting the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, whose members have just adopted a global strategy for moving the world to clean low sulfur fuels and advanced emissions standards, which UNEP says would save an estimated 100,000 premature deaths per year by 2030.

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