West African Countries Introduce Emissions Standards in Fuels

6 December 2016

Benin, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Togo have introduced standards to regulate emissions and lower the levels of sulphur diesel in their fuels, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment). The standards aim to limit emissions and air pollution in the five West African countries.

In September 2016, the NGO Public Eye released findings showing that European trading companies had exploited West Africa’s regulatory standards by exporting fuels with sulphur levels up to 300 times higher than levels permitted in Europe. In December, the five West African countries announced that they have banned imports of the fuels with high sulfur levels from Europe, and agreed to upgrade their refineries to ensure higher standards by 2020. This action is expected to result in a 90% reduction in harmful emissions that contribute to both air pollution and climate emissions.

Commenting on the ban, Nigeria’s Environment Minister Amina J. Mohammed stated that, “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 sulphur in fuels from 3,000 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.”

UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim welcomed the new regulations, noting that “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 emissions standards shows they are placing the health of their people first.” Observing that air pollution kills millions of people annually, Solheim urged all countries to introduce cleaner fuels and vehicles to help reduce deaths from air pollution and contribute to a cleaner environment.

By banning dirty fuels, Benin, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Togo join 23 other countries that have shifted towards the use of low-sulphur fuels. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), hosted by UN Environment, has adopted a strategy to encourage a global shift towards more advanced emissions standards and clean, low-sulphur fuels.

Shifting to low-sulphur fuels is expected to prevent 100,000 premature deaths from air pollution by 2030, in line with the SDG 3 (good health and well-being), and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) target 9 (By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination).