In developing nations, owning a car can be a transformative financial opportunity for citizens. A 2020 article by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) tells the story of John Mwangi, a Kenyan resident who became an entrepreneur and trader after purchasing a used car to sell produce.
UNEP reports that around two out of every five used cars exported worldwide find their way to Africa. Many African countries do not have age limits on imported cars, according to a 2020 report by Global Citizen. Furthermore, emissions standards in Africa are often not on par with those in Europe, leading to poor health and environmental consequences through air pollution.
The Bad: Unsafe Emissions
Vision of Humanity report from 2023 examines the causes and effects of used car exports to developing countries, especially Africa. The European Union (EU) alone sent more than 7.5 million vehicles abroad from 2015 to 2018, with many vehicles meeting emissions standards in Africa but falling short in Europe due to “poor fuel economy and higher emissions.” Vision of Humanity’s report goes on to explain that most of these vehicles “contain inefficient diesel engines, a major source of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx),” both of which reportedly share links with climate change and risk of respiratory diseases.
Lack of Emissions Standards in Developing Countries
According to a 2023 article by the World Economic Forum, about 10 years ago, European motor vehicles were previously required to emit a little over 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer of travel. However, in developing countries dominated by the used car market, cars now consume nearly 1.5 times that amount of fuel.
For additional perspective, the World Economic Forum’s article continues that four in five used vehicles exported to Africa fail to meet “basic emissions standards” like those in Europe. In this article, Margo Oge, formerly of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, claims that improved emissions standards in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world could cut vehicle emissions by up to 99%.
The Good: Progress Toward Safer Emissions Standards in Africa
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) covered an instance of progress before the pandemic. In February 2020, environment and energy ministers from every nation in the Economic Community of West African States conferred to adopt elaborate new standards for ensuring that fuels emitted by area vehicles were cleaner than they had been.
As part of these new emissions standards in Africa, there are several significant changes. By 2030, the average fuel consumption of imported vehicles was reduced from 8 liters to 4.2 liters per 100 kilometers traveled. Additionally, sulfur fuel composition standards were lowered to 50 parts per million (ppm) in diesel and gasoline. This is a significant reduction from levels as high as 10,000 ppm in some of the region’s nations.
With nearly seven years remaining to meet fuel consumption goals, the environment looks forward to concrete evidence of progress in safer imported used cars. Improved emissions standards in Africa offer a pathway to a healthier environment, particularly in central and western Africa, without diminishing the life-changing impact that used cars can have on individuals like Mwangi.
– Noel Teter