Rich countries are dumping millions of highly polluting, used cars in developing nations, according to a report by the United Nations. This is contributing significantly to air pollution and hindering efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially in Africa, the authors concluded.
The report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) showed that 14 million used light-duty vehicles were exported worldwide from Europe, Japan, and the United States between 2015 and 2018. Some 80% went to low- and middle-income countries, with more than half going to Africa.
The fast-growing global vehicle fleet is a major contributor to air pollution and climate change; globally, the transport sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicle emissions are a significant source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides.
“Cleaning up the global vehicle fleet is a priority to meet global and local air quality and climate targets,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Over the years, developed countries have increasingly exported their used vehicles to developing countries; because this largely happens unregulated, this has become the export of polluting vehicles.”
The report, based on an in-depth analysis of 146 countries, found that some two-thirds of them have weak or very weak policies to regulate used vehicle imports. However, it also showed that countries that set up rules to control the influx gained access to high-quality used vehicles, including hybrid and electric cars.
For example, Morocco only permits the importation of vehicles less than five years old and those meeting the EURO4 European vehicles emission standard. As a result, it only receives relatively advanced and clean used vehicles from Europe. Recently a group of 15 African countries announced strict new rules for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency.
African countries imported the largest number of used vehicles (40%) in the period studied, followed by countries in Eastern Europe (24%), Asia-Pacific (15%), the Middle East (12%) and Latin America (9%), the report showed. The Netherlands is one of the main exporters through its ports.
Most vehicles were between 16 and 20 years old, and most fell below EURO4 European Union vehicle emission standards. For example, the average age of used vehicles exported to the Gambia was close to 19 years old, while a quarter of used vehicles exported to Nigeria were almost 20 years old.
“These results show that urgent action needs to be taken to improve the quality of used vehicles exported from Europe. The Netherlands cannot address this issue alone. Therefore, I will call for a coordinated European approach, and a close cooperation between European and African governments” Stientje Van Veldhoven, The Netherlands Minister for the Environment, said.
Poor quality used vehicles also lead to more road accidents. According to the report, many of the countries with “very weak” or “weak” used vehicle regulations, including Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Burundi, also have very high road traffic death rates. Countries that have introduced used vehicle regulations see safer fleets and fewer accidents.
The UN is part of a new initiative supporting the introduction of minimum used vehicle standards. The initiative’s first focus will be countries on the African continent. A number of countries there have already put in place minimum quality standards with many more showing interest in joining the initiative.
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