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The global end of leaded petrol

When service stations in Algeria stopped providing leaded petrol in July, the use of leaded petrol ended globally. This development follows an almost two decades long campaign by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-led global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV), of which IPIECA is a founding member.

Since 1922, tetraethyllead has been used as a petrol additive to improve engine performance. By the 1970s, almost all petrol produced around the world contained lead. When the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) began its campaign to eliminate lead in petrol in 2002, it was one of the most serious environmental threats to human health.

2021 has marked the end of leaded petrol worldwide. Leaded petrol causes heart disease, stroke and cancer. It also affects the development of the human brain, especially harming children, with studies suggesting it reduced 5-10 IQ points. Banning the use of leaded petrol has been estimated to prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths per year, increase IQ points among children, save USD 2.44 trillion for the global economy, and decrease crime rates.

'The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,' said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

'Overcoming a century of deaths and illnesses that affected hundreds of millions and degraded the environment worldwide, we are invigorated to change humanity’s trajectory for the better through an accelerated transition to clean vehicles and electric mobility.'

IPIECA Executive Director Brian Sullivan said, ‘This achievement is testament to the power of partnerships to solve global challenges. Working together, governments, civil society and industry have ended the use of leaded petrol with massive health, environment, climate and socio-economic benefits for the 117 countries where we have eliminated its use.’

‘This same spirit of cross sector, cross border collaboration can help us tackle another urgent global challenge facing us all, that of climate change. Together we can achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and SDGs, creating a healthier and more prosperous future for our planet, and all the people on it.’

By the 1980s, most high-income countries had prohibited the use of leaded petrol, yet as late as 2002, almost all low- and middle-income countries, including some Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members, were still using leaded petrol.

The PCFV is a public-private partnership that brought all stakeholders to the table, providing technical assistance, raising awareness, overcoming local challenges and resistance from local oil dealers and producers of lead, as well as investing in refinery upgrades.

Dr Kwaku Afriyie, Minister of Environment Science, Technology and Innovation in Ghana, said 'When the UN began working with governments and businesses to phase out lead from petrol, sub-Saharan African nations enthusiastically embraced this opportunity. Ghana was one of five West African countries to join early sub-regional workshops and declarations. Following PCFV’s media campaigns, reports, studies, exposing illegalities, and public testing done to expose high levels of lead in the population’s blood, Ghana became ever more determined to free its fuel from lead.'

'That a UN-backed alliance of governments, businesses and civil society was able to successfully rid the world of this toxic fuel is testament to the power of multilateralism to move the world towards sustainability and a cleaner, greener future,' Ms Andersen said. 'We urge these same stakeholders to take inspiration from this enormous achievement to ensure that now that we have cleaner fuels, we also adopt cleaner vehicles standards globally – the combination of cleaner fuels and vehicles can reduce emissions by more than 80%.'

The end of leaded petrol is expected to support the realisation of multiple Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and well-being (SDG3), clean water (SDG6), clean energy (SDG7), sustainable cities (SDG11), climate action (SDG13) and life on land (SDG15). It also offers an opportunity for restoring ecosystems, especially in urban environments.

Find out more about IPIECA's work on improving fuels and products.

Watch the UNEP press conference on the global end of leaded petrol.


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