Fuel is a necessary requirement of global economic development. It facilitates construction, manufacturing, urbanization, and is essential in helping societies progress. And in much of the world, fossil fuels are going to remain critical in the decades ahead.

The challenge we face is ensuring that the fuel we use pollutes as little as possible, while still being able to power societies as they grow. This challenge, as with many global issues, comes down to one of economics.

Adopting stricter standards

For those in the West, it seems obvious to simply apply the standards used there to others. In Europe, for instance, there are very stringent emission standards in place for various chemicals at both a commercial and consumer level.

But it must be remembered that governments worked in tandem with industry and manufacturers to carefully manage how engines and machines responded to these new standards. It is not the case that you can put cleaner fuel into all engines and simply expect them to work. Just as cars that ran on leaded petrol had to be phased out, so countless engines around the world must be replaced or upgraded.

This is where we come to the core of the issue. We all have the desire to use cleaner fuels, but there is a cost involved and it is not trivial.

We’ve seen governments from across Africa come together to set the path forward towards stricter emission standards that will benefit their local populations. This high-level leadership is the foundation of moving towards a cleaner fuel strategy.

Working together

Firstly, this commitment will require concerted communication programmes so that both businesses and consumers can be made aware of how they can adapt. There are also questions of competition. Local fuel refineries in many countries may find themselves in jeopardy as a direct result of the new standards. If they are not technically equipped to produce higher quality, cleaner fuels, they will immediately suffer from international operators with more modern refining capabilities. No government should be expected to implement regulation that puts its own citizens’ jobs and local industry at risk.

This is currently where we find ourselves as we make inroads to cleaner fuels across Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia. We will need a confluence of political will, close collaboration with industry, and innovative technical solutions to deliver the benefits we know are within sight.

We are already implementing this approach where we can. In Botswana, we supply Orapa, the world's largest open cast diamond mine, with a cleaner grade of fuel and oils. Our 50 sulphur parts per million diesel fuel is 10 times cleaner than the local regulation of 500ppm. Not only does this help operations be more efficient but the impact of emissions on the health of the workers is lessened.

Action needed

We know it can be done, so let’s move the conversation forward so it can be implemented at scale. What course of action can drive us forward into a cleaner fuels future? How can we balance regulation with industrial self-determination to take on this challenge? And can we mobilise consumers to understand this complex issue, and demand higher-performing, cleaner fuel from their governments and industry?