Five West African countries have agreed to an import ban European fuels with high sulphur levels, a move that will reduce vehicle emissions and bring safer, cleaner air to more than 250 million people.
According to the UN’s environment agency UNEP, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have agreed to introduce strict standards to ensure cleaner, low sulphur diesel fuels and better vehicle emissions standards, effectively cutting off Europe’s West African market to export its dirty fuels.
A report in September this year by the non-governmental organisation Public Eye exposed how European trading companies exploit weak regulatory standards in West African countries, allowing them to export fuels with sulphur levels that are up to 300 times higher than those permitted in Europe.
“West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe,” said Erik Solheim, head of UNEP. “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.”
The same West African countries have agreed to upgrade their own public and private refineries to produce fuels of the same higher standards by 2020.
“For 20 years, Nigeria has not been able to address the vehicle pollution crisis due to the poor fuels we have been importing,” said Nigeria’s environment minister Amina J. Mohamed. “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.”
According to UNEP, low sulphur fuels combined with advanced vehicles standards can reduce harmful emissions of vehicles by as much as 90 per cent.