Johannesburg: South Africa is falling further behind the world in fuel quality, and it’s hitting SA motorists where it hurts most: their pockets and their health.

July 2017 was the planned introduction date for a Clean Fuels policy which would have resulted in you breathing cleaner air and paying less at the fuel pumps, but the deadline has come and gone while the government dithers.

The idea was to upgrade South Africa’s oil refineries from producing so-called Euro level 2 fuels to Euro 5, the high-quality grades sold in Europe and other first-world markets. The Euro 2 stuff produced locally is not only dirtier but also requires some modern engines to be adapted to be able to run on it.

Since it’s an expensive job to upgrade refineries to produce cleaner fuel, the local oil industry hasn’t done it voluntarily which is why in the 2013/2014 budget the then Minister of Finance announced a R40-billion allocation for it. But the plan seems to have been put on the back burner with government clearly deciding there’s better ways to spend (loot?) the money.

There’s no question that introducing Euro 5 fuel is a priority for any government concerned about the health of its populace. For starters the fuel is cleaner. It has lower levels of benzene and sulphur than current fuel and emits less CO2 and other hazardous gasses that are harmful to human health and the environment.

15 years behind

Secondly, clean fuels would avoid the need to adapt many modern new vehicles to our lower fuel quality. Currently, adjustments are required to engine management systems, drive trains, and exhaust systems.

Also, having to build export vehicles for high technology markets as well  as vehicles for our low technology market is inefficient and negatively impacts on our vehicle manufacturing industry’s global competitiveness.

It leaves South Africa about 15 years behind the rest of the world in terms of fuel standards and quality. But government seems more interested in milking the motorist cash-cow than worrying about our health.

Back in 2010 government introduced a CO2 tax – the so-called ‘green tax’ – where any car emitting more than 120g of carbon dioxide per kilometre was taxed at R75 per gram.

It was ostensibly a plan to reduce air pollution by incentivising the production of cleaner-burning cars, but motor companies are simply passing on the CO2 tax cost to their customers. The great majority of vehicles sold in SA are over the 120g limit, and the tax raised car prices by about two percent on average.

Tipping point

A  plateau has been reached in terms of reducing CO2 emissions with existing engines. This means that to make cars run any cleaner requires cleaner fuels.

According to Naamsa (National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA), we’re now reaching a tipping point. New-technology engines being introduced in Europe in 2018, featuring four-way catalytic converters, will no longer be able to run on our jungle juice. We’ll either be denied access to the latest low-emission cars or they’ll need expensive reverse engineering. In the end it hits you and me in our pockets, and in our lungs.

This delay in introducing clean fuels leaves us questioning just how committed our leaders really are to cleaning up the air or saving motorists money.
Introducing clean fuels would reduce the CO2 outputs (and prices) of cars, but earn less tax for the government. You do the math.