With a population of close to 400 million people, the West African region has one of the fastest growing vehicle fleets in the world. As in most African countries, the bulk of vehicle imports into the region consists mainly of used vehicles. Regulation to restrict the quality of cars being imported into the region is weak. This, coupled with poor fuel quality, is one of the leading cause of increasing levels of air pollution in cities in the region, with the population suffering the effects of breathing toxic fumes. Children, who walk to schools alongside busy roads, and informal vendors along these roads are most at risk of the health effects of these toxic fumes. In 2016, the World Health Organization named Onitsha—a city in Nigeria, as the world’s most polluted city in terms of harmful small particles.
In a major step to reducing 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, met in February 2020 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and adopted a comprehensive set of regulations for introducing cleaner fuels and vehicles in the region.
The high level ministerial meeting was organized by the Economic Community of West African States Commission with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other partners. The regulations adopted by the ministers were a culmination of several years of work by UNEP towards improving the standards of fuels and vehicles in the region.
The Prime Minister of Burkina Faso opened the meeting, where all 15 countries member of the Economic Community of West African States sent environment and energy ministers or their representatives.
The specific regulations adopted by the ministers on cleaner fuels and vehicles are:
A sulfur fuel standard of 50 parts per million (ppm) for petrol and diesel for all imported fuels from 1 January 2021. This is a significant step for the region as some of the countries still have fuel standards that allow import of up to 10,000 ppm diesel fuels. Local refineries will have until 1 January 2025 to upgrade their operations to meet the new requirements as well as comply with other fuel parameters such as benzene and manganese that were agreed by the ministers. This decision will have a significant impact on air quality in the region as only about 20 per cent of fuel needs in the region is locally refined while 80 per cent is imported.
All vehicles that are imported, both new and used, and petrol and diesel, will need to comply to a minimum of EURO 4/IV vehicle emissions standard from 1 January 2021. An age limit for used vehicles of 10 years was also agreed to, with a recommendation of a five-year age limit for light duty vehicles.
A plan to improve the fuel efficiency of imported vehicles was also adopted, with a target to double the efficiency of the fleet from an average of 8 litres per 100 kilometres today to 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres by 2030. An intermediate target of 5 litres per 100 kilometres by 2025 was also agreed. The vehicle fuel efficiency plan or roadmap includes proposals to introduce fiscal incentives to attract low and no emissions vehicles to the region, measures to promote electric vehicles, and a new harmonized label for newly imported vehicles showing the vehicle fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions to support consumer awareness.
These decisions will now go to a Council of Ministers meeting taking place in June 2020, for formal adoption. Once adopted, the legally-binding decisions will become effective on 1 January 2021 at the latest.
“We are very pleased to see the results of a process that took several years,” says Jane Akumu, UNEP expert in clean fuels and vehicles. “UNEP supported 11 out of 15 Economic Community of West African States member countries with individual projects and worked closely with the Economic Community of West African States Commission to develop this clean fuels and vehicles regulations. Several partner organizations and non-governmental organizations also supported the process. This work is part of UNEP-led global programmes—the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, the Global Fuel Economy Initiative the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the Electric Mobility Programme.
This is not the end of the process, as several countries are now requesting for implementation support to, for example, help to draft national fuel and vehicle standards, or to implement the fuel economy roadmap and introduce electric mobility.
“We plan to continue our work in the region and support countries in the implementation of the decisions,” says Akumu. “Ultimately, the use of clean fuels and vehicles is not only an energy or environmental issue. It is a health issue for the millions of people who live in and around the region’s major cities.”