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The environmental impact of carbon emissions on air quality in Nigeria

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

I think its best to start this article with some key stats on Nigeria's air quality and carbon emissions from different sources. It's important because it paints a picture of how Africa's largest growing economy is also one of Africa's largest air polluters.

According to, Nigeria is ranked 39 out the top 98 countries with the worst air quality.

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) quotes the WHO as stating that the quality of air in Nigeria is unsafe.

While air quality is poor in Nigeria reported that as of 2016 Nigeria produced 82,634,214 tons of CO2 emissions, which amounts to only 0.23% of global CO2 emission. This is nothing compared to China and US which account for 28% and 15% global CO2 emissions respectively as shown in Investopedia’s CO2 emission pie chart below.

So why is Nigeria’s air quality so poor when their carbon emissions aren’t as high as China, US or India? The answer probably lies in size of these countries in relation to their population.

Nigeria has a population of approximately 200 million people while the US has a population of approximately 328 million. The problem is the size of Nigeria is 924,000 km2 compare to US which is 9.8 million km2. To describe it another way, imagine 9 people sleeping in one room compared to 15 people sleeping in 9 rooms. One room housing nine people is more congested than nine rooms housing 15 people.

Some of the key sources of CO2 emissions are:

  1. A lack of waste recycling capability. Nigeria doesn’t recycle waste they burn it.

  2. Reliance fossil fuel. Due do inconsistent supply of electricity in Nigeria, Nigerians are heavily reliant on energy generation that requires combustion of fossil fuel. Examples are the use of Kerosene lanterns, Stoves, gas cookers and generators (Fuel and Diesel). All of these burn fuel which generates CO2 and other pollutants as a byproduct of combustion.

  3. Carbon emissions from used cars. Transportation is one of the largest contributors to CO2 emissions in Nigeria as shown in Investopedia's bar chart below. A large portion of this is attributed the use of used cars. These cars are usually imported from western countries where they either failed emission test or were deemed not road worthy. According to a UN report, a lack of strong regulation on imported vehicles is largely to blame for this.

  4. Crude oil exploration and extraction. This is another big source of CO2 emissions has recent studies have shown.


It’s essential to understand that CO2 isn’t the only type of emission causing air pollution in Nigeria. The Guardian reported that vehicle emissions from imported cars are a significant source of the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are leading causes of urban air pollution. A report from the Guardian showed that international dealers export to Nigeria around 900,000 tonnes a year of low-grade, “dirty” fuel, made in Dutch, Belgian and other European refineries. They also found that hundreds of small-scale artisanal refineries produce large quantities of illegal fuel from oil stolen from the network of oil pipelines that criss-cross the Niger delta.

What's worst is that the international resource watchdog group Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) undertook a laboratory analysis which showed that the black market fuel in Nigeria was highly polluting but of a higher quality than the imported diesel and gasoline from Europe. The average “unofficial” diesel tested exceeded the level of EU sulphur standards 152 times, and 40 times the level for gasoline.

Nigeria needs to start moving away from fossil fuel and adopt renewable energy to protect the future generations and environment. Statistics already show that temperatures in Nigeria are rising gradually and in some areas rainfall has reduced significantly due to climate change. We advise the Nigerian governement adopt recommendation from the Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) report, which are:

  1. At a minimum, the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) should be vested with the powers and partners required to implement the planned Nigerian fuel sulphur standards across official supply channels to mitigate particulate emissions; 50 ppm (diesel), 150 ppm (petrol) and 150 ppm (kerosene). This level for sulphur would still undermine emission reduction technologies, and so further reductions in these limits to align with EU or similar standards should be considered.

  2. Commission a formal joint investigation by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Federal Ministries of Petroleum Resources and Environment, and the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) to identify the levels of sulphur within official fuel supplies across the Niger Delta, and the rest of Nigeria. Should unacceptable levels be found, hold the relevant international and/or national companies, importers, and institutions to account.

  3. Commission a study into other sources of particulate emissions in the Port Harcourt area. This should be a collaboration between experts from the University of Port Harcourt, state Commissioner for Environment, Federal Ministry of Environment, international oil and gas companies, and civil society organisations. The study would need to gather data on air quality levels in different locations, and model sources and other important factors that can help policy-makers to mitigate the notorious soot.

  4. Request that all available data on air pollution in Port Harcourt is publicly released by international oil companies (and any others that are collecting data), and monitored to assess potential health impacts and the impact of any changes due to measures taken to improve fuel quality, the prevalence of artisanal refineries, and other sources of particulate emissions.

  5. Support the Rural Electrification Agency to work with private partners to develop renewable energy infrastructure across the Niger Delta to reduce demand for unofficial and official fuel, and pollutant emissions.

  6. The Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Petroleum Technology Development Fund should consider engaging artisanal oil refiners in plans for domestic refining, given they are often producing fuels with better characteristics than official fuel supplied to Nigeria.

In addition to these policy recommendations by SDN, recommend that Nigeria implement stronger regulation around importation of cars. These cars need to pass emission test and ideally should not be more than 10 years of age. There should also be significant investment into recycling waste. This is not only good for the environment, it will also create jobs and open up a whole new sector.

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