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UNECE’s new recommendation on fuel quality will help countries to reduce air pollution

Published: 24 May 2019

Fuel quality is key to deliver on sustained low emissions from cars, as both cleaner fuels and advanced emission control systems are needed to deliver on cleaner tailpipe emissions.

Since the 1980s, UN Vehicle Regulations have enforced the installation of advanced emission control systems (e.g. catalytic converters) to clean exhaust gases and reduce the emission of harmful pollutants. In order to function properly and ensure reliable performance over time, these systems require minimum standards for fuel quality, in particular the use of unleaded fuel. Regulatory obligations have led to the disappearance of lead in fuel in almost all countries in the world.

Now, the UNECE recommendation on adequate fuel quality, first adopted in 2012, has just been revised to adjust to the latest vehicle emission standards (equivalent to Euro 5, Euro 6), which are in force in most developed economies. This means that Sulphur levels have to remain below 10ppm for both gasoline and diesel.

Reducing Sulphur to minimum levels will not only ensure optimal and reliable operation of emission controls systems, it will also improve air quality, benefitting the environment and human health.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) contributes to acid rain and adversely impact human health causing skin irritation and inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system. 

Most developed economies already enforce this threshold, mandated in the EU by the Fuel Quality Directive. Advocacy efforts over the past years, in particular under the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, have led to substantial reductions of sulphur levels in several developing countries. However, many still have Sulphur limits well above this recommended level for diesel (see map), notably in Africa, the Middle-East, and Latin America, and gasoline.

All countries willing to adopt more stringent vehicle emissions limits in line with applicable UN vehicle regulations, should therefore first upgrade their fuel quality standards according to the UNECE recommendation, which applies to cars and trucks.

André Rijnders, Chair of the World Forum’s Working Party on Pollution and Energy, welcomed the decision as an important milestone, highlighting that “Fuel quality is of paramount importance to deliver on sustained low emissions from cars, as both cleaner fuels and advanced emission control systems are needed to deliver on cleaner tailpipe emissions. Using the right fuel quality represents an essential prerequisite to a successful and long-lasting improvement of air quality”.

UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stressed: “This new recommendation will help countries achieve SDGs 3 and 11 for cleaner air and improved human health. We are celebrating this year the 40th anniversary of UNECE’s Air Convention (Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution), which has helped significantly reduce the emission of a series of air pollutants in Europe and North-America. On this occasion, I actively call on all UN Member States to contribute to improving air quality for their citizens by making sure that only adequate fuel quality is available in their market for all types of motor vehicles.”


Note to editors

About UNECE’s fuel recommendation

The revised recommendation was endorsed by the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations’ Working Party on Energy and Pollution (GRPE) on 24 May 2019.

The amended recommendation reflects the changes incorporated over the past years to various UN Regulations, in particular UN Regulations Nos. 49 and 83.

On-road vehicles

Recommended levels of sulphur in Euro emission standards

The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution was created in 1979. Over the years, it has been extended by eight protocols that identify specific measures to be taken by Parties to cut their emissions of air pollutants. The Convention has 51 Parties, covering North America and almost the entire European continent.

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