Millions of used cars, vans and minibuses exported from Europe, the US and Japan to the developing world are of poor quality, while they also contribute significantly to air pollution, thereby hindering efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, states a new report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The report shows that between 2015 and 2018, 14-million used light-duty vehicles were exported worldwide.
Some 80% went to low- and middle-income countries, with more than half coming to Africa.
The UNEP report – Used Vehicles and the Environment, a Global Overview of Used Light Duty Vehicles – calls for action to fill the current policy vacuum with the adoption of harmonised, minimum quality standards that will ensure used vehicles contribute to cleaner, safer fleets in importing countries.
Globally, the transport sector is responsible for nearly 25% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, vehicle emissions are a significant source of the fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides that are major causes of urban air pollution, states the report.
“Cleaning up the global vehicle fleet is a priority to meet global and local air quality and climate targets,” says UNEP executive director Inger Andersen. “Over the years, developed countries have increasingly exported their used vehicles to developing countries.”
“The lack of effective standards and regulation is resulting in the dumping of old, polluting and unsafe vehicles.
“Developed countries must stop exporting vehicles that fail environment and safety inspections and are no longer considered roadworthy in their own countries, while importing countries should introduce stronger quality standards.”
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 the import of used vehicles.
However, it also shows that where countries have implemented measures to govern the import of used vehicles – notably age and emissions standards – these regulations have given them access to high-quality used vehicles, including hybrid and electric cars, at affordable prices.
For example, Morocco only permits the import of vehicles less than five years old and those meeting Euro 4 European vehicles emission standard. As a result, it receives only relatively advanced and clean used vehicles from Europe.
The UNEP report found that 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 Netherlands is one of the exporters of used vehicles from Europe.
A recent review conducted by the Netherlands of its exports found that most of these vehicles did not have a valid roadworthiness certificate at the time of export.
Most vehicles were between 16 and 20 years old, and most fell below Euro 4 European Union (EU) vehicles 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,” says Netherlands Environment Minister Stientje Van Veldhoven.
“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, to ensure that the EU only exports vehicles that are fit for purpose, and compliant with standards set by importing countries.”
Poor quality used vehicles also lead to more road accidents.
According to the UNEP report, many of the countries with very weak or weak used vehicles regulations, including Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Burundi, also have very high road-traffic death rates.
In contract to this, countries that have introduced used vehicles regulations have seen safer fleets and fewer accidents.
UNEP, with the support of the UN Road Safety Trust Fund and others, 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 African countries have already put in place minimum quality standards – including Morocco, Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mauritius – with many more showing interest in joining the initiative.
“The impact of old polluting vehicles is clear,” says Ghana Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng.
“Air quality data in Accra confirms that transport is the main source of air pollution in our cities. This is why Ghana is prioritising cleaner fuels and vehicle standards, as well as electric bus opportunities.
“Ghana was the first country in the West Africa region to shift to low sulphur fuels and [in October] imposed a ten-year age limit for used vehicle imports.”
In September, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) set cleaner fuels and vehicle standards, to be implemented from January, 2021.
Ecowas members also encouraged the introduction of age limits for used vehicles.
* For the purpose of the UNEP report light-duty vehicles do not exceed a gross weight of 3.5 t, and include cars, sports-utility vehicles and minibuses.