18 February 2011Kenya has officially launched its transition to low-sulphur diesel as part of a United Nations-backed effort to improve air quality and reduce vehicle emissions across East Africa. The move is part of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, a global initiative coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote cleaner and more efficient fuels and vehicles in developing countries. Low-sulphur fuels reduce the levels of air pollutants emitted by vehicles – such as sulphur oxides, soot and smoke particles – which, among other health risks, can trigger respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and pose an increased risk of lung cancer. The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that almost 800,000 people die prematurely each year due to urban air pollution – with the majority of deaths occurring in developing countries. Supported by the Governments of the United States, the Netherlands, Canada and other partners, the clean fuels initiative focuses on three global campaigns – reducing sulphur in vehicle fuels, eliminating leaded gasoline and adopting cleaner vehicle standards and technologies.The low-sulphur diesel, which Kenya began importing in October 2010, contains only 5 per cent of the amount of sulphur in the country’s previous diesel supply, according to a news release issued today by UNEP. The cleaner fuel is available in limited stations but will soon be found in pumps nationwide. Tanzania also began introducing low sulphur diesel last month. “The partnership that is removing lead and cutting the sulphur levels of transportation fuels in Africa and beyond is among the key successes of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development with enormous benefits in terms of reduced air pollution and perhaps for the wider environment,” noted UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. UNEP’s Green Economy report, which will be launched next week at the meeting of the agency’s Governing Council in Nairobi, estimates that reducing the sulphur content of transportation fuels in sub-Saharan Africa alone with the current fleet of vehicles could save up to nearly $1 billion a year in health and related costs.Mr. Steiner said this is proof that “investing in the environment is rarely a burden but a way of intelligently and cost-effectively growing a modern, sustainable economy.”The financial benefits for Africa in a switch to low-sulphur diesel are also significant. A World Bank study shows that, when combined with cleaner vehicles, adoption of low-sulphur fuel would result in annual savings in health costs of $6 billion in sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2010 and 2020, total savings are projected to be $43 billion. Through a global network of governments, fuel companies and other groups, the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles is achieving major progress, with nearly 100 countries having already adopted plans to reduce sulphur levels in diesel.