Millions of used cars are exported annually from Europe, the US and Japan to poorer regions of the world. There, they contribute significantly to air pollution and hinder efforts to combat climate change. This was the result of a first-time report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). In the period studied between 2015 and 2018, 14 million used passenger vehicles, SUVs and minibuses were exported (except for heavy vehicles such as trucks). Eighty percent of these went to low- and middle-income countries. Forty percent of cars ended up in Africa, 24 percent in Eastern Europe, 15 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, 12 percent in the Middle East and one percent in Latin America.
A study in the Netherlands showed that most of these used cars no longer had a driving licence in their countries of origin and were between 16 and 20 years old. Only a few met the European emission standard EURO4. The average age of vehicles shipped to Gambia was almost 19 years, and a quarter of the cars landing in Nigeria were already 20 years old.
Global vehicle fleet also rises due to end-of-life vehicles
The transport sector is responsible for almost a quarter of greenhouse gases, making it a crucial factor in global warming. However, the export of retired used cars now leads to an increase in the totality of the world’s fleet of vehicles and therefore has a direct effect on air pollution and the emission of mainly particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, which pollute the air in urban areas. “Making the global fleet cleaner must be a priority in order to achieve global and local air pollution and climate targets,” says Inger Andersen, Director of UNEP. “In recent years, richer countries have increased their exports of used cars. Since there are almost no rules on these exports, air pollution from dirty cars is exported.”
The scrap cars are not only harmful to the environment, they also endanger human lives: Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe or Burundi not only have very weak import rules regarding environmental protection, they also have an above-average number of road deaths. By contrast, countries with stricter import rules have safe vehicle fleets and fewer accidents.
EU is responsible
The UNEP report examined 146 countries, two-thirds of which have “weak” or “very weak” regulations for the import of used cars. However, there are also exceptions: Morocco, for example, only allows the import of vehicles that are less than five years old and meet the EURO4 emission standard. Rules such as those in Morocco also allowed poorer countries to come to relatively low-cost hybrid or electric cars. However, Dutch Environment Minister Stintje Van Veldhoven also sees the EU as having a duty: “We urgently need rules to improve the quality of the vehicles exported. This requires a close partnership between Europe and Africa. UNEP also wants to take action together with the UN Road Security Fund. It is a question of setting minimum standards. In a first round, stricter import rules, such as those already in force in Morocco, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana or Mauritius, will be extended to other countries. The West African Economic Community ECOWAS has already taken a first step and wants to introduce stricter rules, especially on the age of vehicles, from next year.
West Africa wants to act
“The impact of old dirty cars on the environment is clear. Air quality data in Accra show that it is traffic that mainly contributes to air pollution in the city. That is why Ghana wants to set stricter standards,” explains Environment and Technology Minister Kwabene Frimpong-Boateng. Ghana plans not only to use electric buses, but also to promote low-sulphur fuel. Imported cars must also not be older than 10 years of age. “We must stop deporting old, dirty and unsafe cars to poorer countries,” says ANDERSen, UNEP Director.