A report by campaign group Public Eye has criticized Swiss firms in a new report for selling toxin-laden diesel, that just would not be allowed in Europe, to African countries. In essence, Africa is getting rejected dirty fuel when they trade with these firms.
According to the campaign, the fuel retailers are exploiting lax regulatory standards on the continent and are getting away with selling this dirty fuel.
Some of the Swiss firms implicated in the report include Vitol, Trafigura, Addax & Oryx and Lynx Energy because they are all shareholders of fuel retailers who are in charge of the trade.
Three of those distribution companies have stepped forward in defense, saying that they meet the regulatory requirements of the market and have no vested interest in keeping sulphur levels higher than they need to be. Trafigura and Vitol, in particular, claim that the report misses its mark because retailers work within legal limits enforced in the countries.
If the blame is not to be laid at the feet of the fuel retailers but is rather dependent on the regulatory standards that are attainable in African countries then the question must be why regulations are so lax in Africa. Why do several African countries allow diesel to have a sulphur content of more than 2,000 parts per million (ppm), with some even allowing more than 5,000ppm, where the European standard is less than 10ppm?
The reasons for Africa’s continued allowance of dirty fuel apparently varies. For one, most government are worried that the cleaner diesel would be more expensive. Experts, however, posit that it would make very little difference and fluctuations in oil price are a greater determinant of diesel price.
There is also the fact that the few African countries that have operative refineries are often unable to reduce the sulphur levels to the standard acceptable in Europe and the government, therefore, keeps the regulatory standard at a level their own refineries can operate at.
According to Rob de Jong from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) who spoke to the BBC pointed out that sometimes it may be as simple as ignorant policy makers. He said that there was a lack of awareness among some policy makers about the significance of the sulphur content.
Dirty fuel which has a high sulphur content should be a big deal to African countries because sulphur particles emitted by a diesel engine are considered to be a major contributor to air pollution.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks this as one of the top global health risks. They associate it with heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory problems.
Reducing the sulphur content in diesel would help reduce the risk that air pollution poses and wielding that knowledge, Unep is trying to persuade governments to tighten up the sulphur content regulations and is gradually making progress.
In 2015, the East African Bloc introduced new regulations for Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. In those countries, diesel cannot have a sulphur content higher than 50ppm.