Leaded gasoline, long associated with harming the environment and human health, is at the end of the road.
The United Nations announced on Monday that Algeria, which was the last country in the world to allow the sale of the leaded fuel for vehicles, stopped doing so in July.
“The successful enforcement of the leaded gasoline ban is a major milestone for global health and our environment,” U.N. Environmental Program Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a statement.
“Today, we celebrate a milestone for multilateralism — the culmination of a united global effort to rid the world of lead in petrol, a major threat to human and planetary health,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated.
Almost 100 years ago, tetraethyl lead was first added to gasoline to improve engine performance. In use for decades, its presence In vehicle emissions came to be associated with brain damage, especially in children, as well as strokes, cancer and heart disease.
The U.N. group cited research findings that leaded gasoline has caused mental disabilities in children and millions of premature deaths.
Approximately 7 million people die annually as a result of air pollution, according to UNEP. Much of the pollution, in the form of particulate matter known as PM 2.5, comes from vehicle emissions.
In the U.S. and Europe, the phase-out of lead in gasoline began in the 1980s.
“As a result of the EPA’s regulatory efforts, including the removal of lead from motor vehicle gasoline, levels of lead in the air decreased by 98 percent between 1980 and 2014,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated.
However, many developing countries continued to use leaded gasoline even after 2002, when the U.N. began its anti-lead campaign.
“When the campaign began, 86 countries were still using leaded fuel. Today, there are none,” Guterres said. “Lead in fuel has run out of gas — thanks to the cooperation of governments in developing nations, thousands of businesses and millions of ordinary people.”
This is a step toward “making peace with nature” and shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy and “global mobility with no emissions at all,” Guterres said.
Algeria halted the sale of leaded gasoline in July, following 20 years of campaigning by the U.N. Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, a consortium of government and private organizations.
“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,” said Andersen of the United Nations.
Transportation accounts for almost 25 percent of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UNEP, and may increase to 33 percent by 2050. Even as electric vehicles continue to grow in market share, many of these 1.2 billion new vehicles in coming decades will use fossil fuels for energy. Millions of used vehicles are exported to mid- and low-income countries from Europe, Japan, and North America, contributing to air pollution and carbon emissions.
Andersen wants the coalition that brought an end to leaded fuel to adopt global vehicle standards to “reduce emissions by more than 80 percent.”
“Algeria’s move against leaded gasoline ended the last gasp of 19th century automotive toxicity in a 21st century world,” author Edwin Black said. “Unfortunately, our planet is nowhere near where it needs to achieve clean mobility.”
Black has written extensively on the geopolitics of petroleum and its relationship to war. He is the author of “Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives,” among other books.
Edited by Judith Isacoff and Matthew B. Hall