The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded seven million premature deaths globally as a result of elevated levels of air pollution. In 2016, the WHO reported that 91% of the world’s population reside in areas that did not meet the threshold for acceptable air quality. Such conditions escalate the effects of and increase mortality from strokes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and infections, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2010, the World Bank along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that over 180,000 deaths and 4,100,000 disability life adjusted years of healthy life lost were directly attributable to road transport air pollution. Also, when declaring the ‘best practice group’ for policy handling of air pollution, the list consisted mainly of high-income countries that can afford preventative measures like electrifying transportation.
Air Quality and Poverty
The WHO reports that low-and middle-income countries suffer the highest effects from elevated exposure to harmful air pollutants. In fact, the majority of the world’s cities with the highest Air Quality Indices (AQI) are found in developing nations. These countries typically do not have adequate laws or enforcement to protect against air pollution. They tend to contain a higher prevalence of coal power stations, and less stringent restrictions on vehicle emissions.
Further, developing nations experience great disparity in the effects of air pollution and the burden typically falls on the countries’ poorest populations. The reason being, the poor usually reside in highly concentrated areas with dense harmful emissions. This is due to their exclusion from suburban areas where there are fewer pollutant generating spaces.
Despite air pollution challenges, clean air has been deemed a human right and is covered under the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. In order to improve air quality, amongst others, one of the UN’s main suggestions has been to adopt clean and renewable energy and technologies.
The emission from our current fuel and diesel-powered traditional transportation systems consisting of fossil fuel-powered cars, trucks and buses have been found to generate pollutants that have adverse effects on every organ in the human body. It is also responsible for approximately half of all the nitrogen oxides in our air and is amongst one of the greatest sources of green-house gases. Given the large contribution or main-stream fuel and diesel vehicles make to air pollution, electrifying transportation systems is anticipated to be one of the most effective, shorter-term solutions to air pollution, and thus lifting some of the burdens on poor and vulnerable populations.
One of the main advancements in renewable technology has been the use of electric vehicles. One estimate finds that with the widespread accelerated adoption of clean transportation through the electrification of vehicles and fuel, an approximated 25 million aggregate years of life would be saved by 2030. Included in this figure is at least 210,000 reduction in premature deaths in 2030 alone. These gains would primarily occur in China, India, the Middle East, Africa and developing Asia, all locations with amongst the highest rates of poverty.
So far, there are three classes of electric vehicles:
1. E4W – Electric four wheelers
2. E2W – Electric two-wheelers
3. HEV – Hybrid electric vehicles.
Access in Developing Countries
One of the main barriers to electrifying transportation in developing nations is the fact that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are typically more expensive than traditional fuel and diesel-powered vehicles. However, switching to EVs can prompt savings. Developing nations exist on a spectrum of development. For those with public transportation systems, working police and emergency health care fleets, the governmental investment in the transition towards electric vehicles and trucks would not only help to improve the air quality in the respective nations but would also prove to be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run. Of the available classes of electric transport options, the E2Ws would be most beneficial in developing nations. This is because E2Ws have the lowest energy consumption rating. Unlike E4Ws, the E2W class’ of EV ability to be charged via regular home outlet means that there are no substantial charging infrastructure investment requirements.
In terms of operational costs, all classes of EVs were found to have lower operational costs than their corresponding fuel vehicles. However, the E2W class was found to have benefits ranging from 24% less, up to eight times less of an operating cost than their corresponding fuel-based transportation. Many developing nations might not yet be in a position to invest in and benefit from the E4W or HEV EV classes due to its high initial investment and required charging infrastructure investments. The E2W class by contrast has been found to be a feasible investment for electrifying transportation for poverty reduction. Not only will this contribute to a significant reduction in air pollution, lightening its burden on the poorer populations, but it will also prompt savings for governments and stimulate economic growth. Additionally, as investments in EVs continue to rise, the initial purchase prices will fall and so developing countries might be able to afford higher classes.
– Rebecca Harris