Our success: west-African countries lower their sulphur thresholds

© Carl De Keyzer / MAGNUM
Public Eye’s Dirty Diesel report, published in 2016, revealed that Swiss commodities companies exploit lax African standards in a targeted manner: they sell highly sulphurous fuels in Africa that have long been banned in Europe. The report made a significant contribution to the reduction of sulphur limits in West African countries and, with it, to improved air quality for millions of people.

The behaviour of Swiss commodities traders may be legal, but it is illegitimate and violates human rights. In response to a report by the Dutch environmental inspectorate that fully corroborated our research, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Erik Solheim stated: “Inferior products should not be sold, even if they meet national standards”. The companies‘ profit is made at the expense of the health of millions of Africans – and they have the same right to health as we do.

Despite the irresponsible practices of Swiss commodity traders who are unwilling to give up their lucrative business model, Public Eye has achieved a great deal. Our revelations led to a wave of outrage in Africa and received media attention around the world. Together with our partners in Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and the Ivory Coast we advocated for strict fuel standards.

Following major protests, Ghana’s government significantly improved its national sulphur standard and as of July 2017 lowered the sulphur content permitted by the state for diesel imports sixtyfold.

The Dirty Diesel report revelations also triggered action from the West African economic community ECOWAS. In February 2020, oil and environment ministers adopted the new binding standards for imported fuel, which came into force on 1 January 2021. The maximum thresholds for diesel and petrol were lowered to 50 ppm – a level at which catalytic converters and particle filters still function. Combined with the new standards for the import of second-hand cars, adopted at the same time, this will significantly reduce air pollution.