Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Ivory Coast had pledged to introduce strict standards to ensure they use cleaner, low-sulphur fuels for their vehicles, effectively stopping Europe from exporting its dirty fuels, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) said.
European trading firms had been exploiting weak regulations in West Africa to export fuels with levels of sulphur up to 300 times higher than was permitted in Europe, campaign group, Public Eye said in a report published in September.
Public Eye described the issue as a “ticking time bomb’’ as cities grow across Africa and populations boom in major hubs including Nigeria’s Lagos and Ghana’s Accra.
“West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe; they are placing the health of their people first,’’ said UNEP Head Erik Solheim.
“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,’’ Solheim said in a statement.
Sulphur is responsible for deadly heart and lung diseases, health experts said.
The five countries had also agreed to upgrade the operations of their national refineries, public and privately owned to improve the quality of their fuel by 2020, UNEP said.
Nigeria’s Environment Minister, Amina Mohamed said the agreement would massively improve the air quality in its cities and allow the country to set modern vehicle standards.
“For 20 years, Nigeria has not been able to address the vehicle pollution crisis due to the poor fuels we have been importing,’’ Mohamed said in a statement.
A combination of low-sulphur fuels and advanced vehicles emissions standards could reduce harmful emissions by up to 90 per cent, according to the UNEP.
Outside of West Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Morocco had all increased fuel quality requirements in recent years.
But better quality drives up costs and with many nations facing severe shortages in public finances, they are wary of angering people with higher pump prices, analysts said. (Reuters/NAN)