Illustration image of man refuelling car. Credit: Belga
The use of the highly polluting and toxic leaded petrol has now been eradicated globally, which will help prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths worldwide.
For almost a century, the fuel has contaminated air, dust, soil, drinking water and food crops and has caused heart disease, stroke and cancer, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“The successful enforcement of the ban on leaded petrol is a huge milestone for global health and our environment,” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said in a press release on Monday.
“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,” she added.
Algeria, the last country in the world to use the fuel, ran out of its stock last month, resulting in the official end of the use of leaded petrol, for which the UNEP-led global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) campaigned for almost two decades.
The use of tetraethyllead as a petrol additive to improve engine performance was introduced in 1922, and by the 1970s, almost all petrol produced around the world contained lead.
Although most high-income countries prohibited the use of this particular fuel by the 1980s, almost all low- and middle-income countries were still using leaded petrol in 2002, when the UNEP’s campaign against the compound started.
At this point, it was considered one of the most serious environmental threats to human health.
According to UNEP, its eradication will “increase IQ points among children, save $2.45 trillion (€2.07 trillion) for the global economy, and decrease crime rates.”
More work to be done
Despite reaching this goal, more has to be done to minimise the threat of local air, water and soil pollution by the transport sector, UNEP warned.
“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,” said Andersen.
She urged these same stakeholders to take inspiration and to ensure “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%.”
Although many countries have already started transitioning to electric cars, an additional 1.2 billion new vehicles will be introduced, and most of them, especially in developing countries, “contributing to global warming and air-polluting traffic.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his appeal to shift away from fossil fuels, such as coal, to renewable sources, and to reform the energy, food, transport and financial sectors to work with nature, not against it.
“To succeed, we need international cooperation. Compromise. Solidarity. Let’s focus all our efforts on making peace with nature. And let’s build a cleaner, greener future for all,” he said.