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Largest Source of Lead Pollution Phased Out in All Countries

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By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub , September 10, 2021

 

The UN Environment Programme has announced the use of lead in petrol gas has ended around the world, following a multistakeholder campaign that began in 2002. Leaded petrol was gradually banned in countries and regions around the world, and the phase-out is now complete around the globe, UNEP reports. Algeria was the final country to end the use of leaded gas.

Tetraethyllead had been added to petrol to improve engine performance and was used in “almost all petrol produced around the world,” representing a serious threat to human health and the environment by contaminating air, dust, soil, drinking water, and food crops. The impacts of lead on human health include heart disease, stroke, and cancer, and it harms development of children’s brains.

The Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) was established at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg Summit) to provide technical assistance, invest in refinery upgrades, and overcome resistance from lead producers. The alliance is composed of governments, fuel and vehicle industries, and civil society, and UNEP hosts the secretariat.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said that with this milestone “we are invigorated to change humanity’s trajectory for the better through an accelerated transition to clean vehicles and electric mobility.” She called for adopting cleaner vehicles standards globally.

Also according to UNEP, adopting cleaner fuels and vehicles can reduce emissions by more than 80%. The transport sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions, and by 2050 this share is expected to grow to one third of all energy-related GHG emissions. 

UN officials have indicated that the campaign could provide a model for phasing out coal, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy to address climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Leaded petrol was the world’s largest source of lead pollution, but UNEP stresses that there is still an urgent need to stop pollution from lead in paints, batteries, and household items. 

The PCFV supports a vehicles campaign and a sulfur campaign in addition to the lead campaign. [UNEP press release] [PCFV website]