Setting in motion cleaner fuels and vehicles in Africa

by Lia Newman for the CCAC secretariat - 8 December, 2020
The CCAC’s Global Sulfur Strategy aims to help all countries protect their citizens from air pollution by moving to cleaner fuels and improved vehicle standards.

Rapid urbanization and motorization in Africa is increasing air pollution from vehicle emissions. The lack of emissions controls combined with poor fuel quality have made the transport sector one of the largest sources of air pollution in many African cities, with the population suffering the effects of breathing toxic fumes.

Globally, air pollution from vehicles contributes to 3.2 million premature deaths per year, shortening life spans, and causing a host of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, translating to trillions in health care costs every year. Between 1990 to 2017, deaths in Africa from outdoor air pollution have increased by 57 percent and has continued to rise.

One strategy to combat this problem is the global desulfurization of on-road fuels which could avoid 500,000 deaths every year by 2050 and save US $18 trillion in health costs (16 times more than the cost of desulfurizing fuel).  To do this, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) developed the world’s first Global Strategy to Introduce Low-Sulfur Fuels and Cleaner Diesel Vehicles which, if fully implemented, could come close to eliminating high sulfur fuels and reduce at least 90 percent of small particulate emissions and black carbon from on-road vehicles. The Coalition’s support to governments from across Africa has enabled many countries to begin the move to low sulfur fuels and cleaner vehicles, including the harmonization of standards in Western, Eastern, and Southern Africa.

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Early morning commuters wait surrounded by exhaust fumes in Nairobi, Kenya

To cleaner fuels and vehicles

Vehicles are a major source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the main contributor to air pollution related illness. Poor fuel and vehicle quality is a leading cause of increasing levels of air pollution. Reducing sulfur levels in fuel makes existing gasoline and diesel vehicles cleaner and decreases the emissions of many pollutants, including PM2.5.

Introducing low-sulfur diesel fuels – fuels with no more than 50 parts per million (ppm) sulfur, and ideally ultra-low 10 or 15 ppm sulfur – will significantly reduce PM2.5 emissions. Some African countries currently have fuel standards that allow up to 10,000 ppm diesel fuels.

Low-sulfur fuel adoption goes hand in hand with cleaner and more efficient engines. To reduce sulfur emissions further, African countries should also adopt cleaner vehicles emission standards (Euro IV or VI) to maximize health and environmental benefits. Vehicle emission standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of vehicles.

Global Sulfur Strategy milestones

The Global Strategy has made significant strides since it was launched in with CCAC partners in 2013. After two years of supporting the East Africa Community’s efforts to transition to low sulfur fuels, the first major milestone came in 2015. Five East African countries (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) jointly adopted harmonized national standards for cleaner fuels (50 ppm). As a result of these countries’ commitment to improving air quality, over 6.8 million city dwellers in East Africa now benefit from low sulfur diesel fuel and the life-saving engine filter and catalyst technologies that cleaner fuel enables.     

The CCAC’s 8th High Level Assembly, November 2016, Marrakech, Morroco.

The next milestone was achieved at the CCAC’s 8th High Level Assembly in November 2016. Thirty-eight Coalition countries, recognizing the deleterious effects of air pollution on their citizens, signed the Marrakech Communique, which commits countries to reduce black carbon emissions through cleaner diesel fuels and vehicles. Action includes developing national implementation plans that outline timelines for the nationwide introduction of such standards, developing and refining black carbon inventories and projections beginning with strengthening capacities and efforts to do so, and to share information on existing or planned black carbon mitigation actions with the Coalition.

Shifting gears to Southern and Western Africa, the CCAC developed a roadmap for the adoption of clean fuel and vehicle standards for the regions in 2017. Since both regions had signed a regional framework agreement with the goal of adopting a maximum sulfur content of 50 ppm in diesel, the work was intended to inform the development of regional and national roadmaps for the adoption and implementation of harmonized clean fuels and vehicle standards. In 2019, through the support of the CCAC, 13 Southern African countries agreed on a roadmap to cleaner fuels: <50 ppm for importing countries by the end of 2022, <50 ppm for refining countries by the end of 2025; and 10 ppm for all countries by 2030.

The most recent accomplishment of the CCAC’s Global Sulfur Strategy came in February 2020. In a major step to reduce air pollution and climate emissions in the region, the environment and energy ministers of all the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a comprehensive set of regulations for introducing cleaner fuels and vehicles in the region. Specific regulations include a sulfur fuel standard of 50 ppm in petrol and diesel for all imported fuels from January 2021, mandatory compliance to a minimum of EURO IV vehicle emission standards for all vehicles, and a plan to improve the fuel efficiency of imported vehicles.

Achieving cleaner fuels and vehicles globally

Continuous and active engagement with partners has led to many landmark achievements across Africa. Through CCAC support, governments from across the continent are moving towards low sulfur fuels and cleaner vehicles, with harmonized standards in Western, Eastern, and Southern Africa. The ultimate goal of the CCAC’s Global Sulfur Strategy is for all countries to reach low sulfur fuels (50 ppm) by 2025 and most countries to reach 10 ppm fuels by 2030. With only 40 countries with ultra-low sulfur diesel standards, the Coalitions aims to expand implementation of the Global Strategy in countries and cities around the world.