Leaded petrol sale ends following global campaign supported by the FIA Foundation

Main Image
117 countries used leaded petrol in 2002.
117 countries used leaded petrol in 2002.
Algeria was the last country to still produce leaded petrol.
Algeria was the last country to still produce leaded petrol.

The UN Environment Programme has announced that the last leaded petrol to be produced has now been sold, thanks to the work of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) a FIA Foundation-supported global campaign.

Poisoning from leaded petrol was one of the world’s most serious environmental health problems, responsible for 90% or more of human lead exposure, with children particularly vulnerable. As of last month, Algeria, the last country to still produce leaded fuel sold its last reserves. This marks the successful end of a global campaign to prevent the dangerous health impacts of lead poisoning from vehicle emissions.

Lead exposure in childhood has long lasting negative effects on mental health and personality even into adulthood. A study by Duke University found the higher a person’s blood lead levels at age 11, the more likely they are to show signs of mental illness and difficult personality traits by age 38. Lead poisoning is also associated with a range of wider health impacts, including raised blood pressure, kidney damage, and impacts on the brain and nervous system. There also appear to be correlations between lead exposure and IQ and even to local crime rates. A UNEP-commissioned study estimated the benefits of the global elimination of leaded petrol at over 1.2 million premature deaths avoided per year, of which 125,000 are children. The overall global benefit of eliminating leaded petrol was measured as $2.45 trillion per year.

The global campaign to remove lead from petrol was created at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002, when the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) was established. This global public-private partnership is hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The FIA Foundation has been a member since 2003, providing financial and strategic support to enable the campaign to achieve its goals, through global, regional and country level activities.

In 2002, 117 countries were still using leaded petrol. The partnership rapidly achieved its initial target of removing all leaded petrol from sub-Saharan Africa by 2005. However, a number of countries globally still stubbornly persisted – totaling 15 in 2008. Thanks to ongoing work, this number continued to decline, with just three remaining by 2018, and by 2021 Algeria was the last remaining producer of leaded fuel.

The end of leaded fuel was marked by a global webinar hosted by UNEP to celebrate the achievement. Speakers included Inger Anderson, Executive Director of UNEP, and Janet McCabe Deputy Director of the US EPA.

FIA Foundation Executive Director Saul Billingsley said: “The final sale of leaded petrol in Algeria marks the closing chapter of one of the most remarkable and effective global environmental health campaigns. Switching to unleaded petrol has helped prevent serious health impacts, particularly for young people, save lives millions of lives, reduce crime and benefit global economies enormously. As a Foundation we are proud to have played our part by funding and supporting the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV) for the past 18 years and contributing to this significant global shift.”

PCFV works globally with developing and transitional countries to reduce air pollution from vehicles through the promotion of cleaner fuels and vehicles. As well as the campaign to remove lead from fuels, it also undertakes important work to reduce levels of sulphur in fuel, and to support the transition to cleaner, more efficient vehicles. Low sulphur fuels are critical to lowering direct emissions of particulate matter from on-road traffic, which has significant health and climate impacts. Through improved refinery technology and fuel import standards, PCFV efforts have resulted in major progress in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe.

The FIA Foundation’s funding for PCFV is part of our wider support for cleaner, more efficient vehicles. This includes the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, which delivers support to countries transitioning to a cleaner more efficient fleet of vehicles in collaboration with PCFV, and the TRUE initiative, which is focused on measuring real-world vehicle emissions to inform and improve clean air policies.