UNEP: Over 50% of gasoline in sub-Saharan Africa is now lead free


Over half of all petrol sold in sub-Saharan Africa is now unleaded. This is one of the key findings delivered to a conference taking place at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess progress towards a lead-free continent.

Nairobi, 7 May 2004- Over half of all petrol sold in sub-Saharan Africa is now unleaded. This is one of the key findings delivered to a conference taking place at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess progress towards a lead-free continent.

The report also indicates that 12 countries with refineries have committed to lead phase-out. Nine countries including Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana (refiner), Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria (refiner), Rwanda, and Sudan (refiner) have already switched entirely to unleaded fuel.

Today Kenya is expected to announce that it too will be switching to fully unleaded gasoline by 1 January 2006.

The news, being announced by Ochilo Ayacko, the Kenyan Minister of Energy, will help put Africa on track for a continent-wide switch to lead-free petrol by the end of 2005. Currently just four per cent of the motor fuels sold in Kenya are unleaded.

Kenya’s announcement will have impacts beyond its borders as the country is an exporter of fuel in East Africa.

Delegates to the conference have learnt that the push towards phasing-out leaded gasoline is emerging as a real success story in the developing world.

The move to remove lead in petrol in Sub Saharan Africa began in Dakar, Senegal, in 2001 where countries agreed on the Dakar Declaration for the phasing-out of leaded fuel. At that time, only the Sudan was fully unleaded. After the Declaration, five sub-regional Action Plans came into effect that have been paving way towards the cleaner, lead-free, motor fuels.

The initiative was given fresh political impetus at the World Summit on Sustainable Development which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002.

At this week’s conference, Governments, organizations, industry and members of civil society are taking stock of the progress towards phasing-out leaded gasoline or petrol across sub-Saharan Africa. The conference is also discussing the wider issues of urban air pollution.

Most of the countries that have not yet switched are in the process of developing action plans to ensure a complete phase out by the end of 2005. In total, over 50 per cent of all motor gasoline sold in sub-Saharan Africa is now unleaded.

This week’s conference is organised jointly by the World Bank (the Clean Air Initiative for Sub-Saharan Africa) and UNEP, which is hosting the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV).

The conference, consisting of two days of technical discussions along with today’s ministerial session, has been identifying the remaining barriers to delivering the full and final phase-out of leaded petrol.

Patrick Bultynck, Senior Urban Transport Economist for the World Bank’s Africa Region, said: “The phase out of lead in petrol in Africa is part of our global activities aimed at delivering a healthier and cleaner urban environment across the developing world. Indeed, a cleaner urban environment is a key for sustainable economic and social development. Lead-free petrol is one important aspect of this work, but not the end of our ambitions."

“There are numerous other pollutants produced by transport and industry that also need to be tackled. The fact that we can rid cities of lead pollution give us all the confidence and clear signal that these other pollution concerns are within our reach,” he said.

The expected output of the conference is the finalisation of Action Plans to reach at national, sub-regional and regional levels the deadline of December 2005.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: " Removing lead from petrol in Africa is proving to be one of the great environmental and health success stories of the early 21st century. At the WSSD in Johannesburg two years ago, Governments, the private sector, civil society and intergovernmental organizations like UNEP committed themselves to action on a wide range of fronts. This project shows that a concerted effort from Governments, civil society, and the private sector assisted by international organizations can result in rapid and important improvements".

"The Clean Fuels and Vehicles Initiative is living proof that the commitments made there are bearing fruit and that the spirit of Johannesburg is being felt in the air and on the streets and highways of the developing world. This gives us hope that many other pressing environmental problems, from delivering freshwater and sanitation to reversing the decline of wildlife, can be tackled so we can swiftly steer the planet onto a sustainable track."


Lead is a toxic metal that can cause damage to the kidneys, nervous system, brain, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. Of most concern are its effects on the nervous system of young children. It has been linked with reduced intelligence, attention deficit disorders and behavioural difficulties.

The phasing out off lead in gasoline will also pave the way for cleaner vehicle technologies, such as catalytic converters, which can reduce harmful emissions from vehicles by over 90 percent. These technologies are already standard in many parts of the world but need unleaded petrol/gasoline to be able to function.

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