Breakthrough on „Dirty Diesel“: West African countries to reduce sulphur standards by the factor 60 to 200

Yesterday‘s meeting convened by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Abuja, Nigeria, saw major steps towards the improvement of fuel quality in West Africa. Following Ghana’s announcement in November, Nigeria, Benin, Ivory Coast and Togo also announced to lower sulphur limits for imported diesel to 50 ppm (parts per million). The controversy caused by Public Eye‘s «Dirty Diesel» report has led to yet another important step towards cleaner air in African cities. In the Netherlands, the city council of Amsterdam has called for a ban on the production and export of fuels containing harmful substances.

Environmental and Energy Ministers from Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo, as well as representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) attended the meeting in Nigeria’s capitol. The public pressure generated by the massive media coverage on «Dirty Diesel» as well as the campaigns by Public Eye’s partner organizations have led  the above mentioned countries to announce the reduction of sulphur levels for imported diesel to 50 ppm. In Nigeria, the current limit is 3,000 ppm, in Togo it is even 10,000ppm. Being Africa’s largest fuel market by far, Nigeria’s move is likely to trigger improvements in other West African countries.  

In Europe, Dirty Diesel is continuing to cause quite a stir as well. On 30 November, the city council of Amsterdam adopted a motion by a large majority comprising five parties which instructs the municipal government – the city of Amsterdam is the sole shareholder of the port – to negotiate a prohibition of the production (blending) and the export of fuels containing higher levels of contaminants than allowed in the EU. Moreover next Monday, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, and the Nigerian Minister for Environment, Amina Mohammed, will hold a conference on «Clean Fuels for West Africa». Representatives from European and African governments, international organizations, industry (invitees include port operators, refineries, oil companies, commodity traders) and civil society (Public Eye and its partners) will discuss further steps towards low sulphur fuels for the whole West African region.

Official Switzerland, on the other hand, has chosen to remain inactive in spite of the importance of Swiss-based traders in the business and has decided not to send any high-ranking officials to The Hague. In its answer to a parliamentary question, the Federal Council stated that «businesses have a responsibility to mitigate – as best they can – any impact their activities might have on people’s health». However, the government isn’t willing to take concrete steps towards enforcement. In this light, it is all the more important that people in Switzerland will soon have the opportunity to demand more concrete steps towards enforcement of the responsibility of businesses within in the context of the Responsible Business Initiative.  

For further information:
Andreas Missbach
Joint Managing Director Public Eye
+41 44 277 79 07