Air Pollution

Air pollution is contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. Household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires are common sources of air pollution. Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Outdoor and indoor air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases, which can be fatal.

Air pollution is now the greatest health risk in the region, with more than 95% of the EU urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organization guidelines. Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributable to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012.

Poor air quality is a contributory factor in the deaths of at least 3.2 million people annually, according to the WHO. Motorized traffic is a significant source of major pollutants, including carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other particulate matters (PM2.5 and PM10).

While more advanced technologies and stricter standards have resulted in reduced PM2.5 and hydrocarbon emissions in some regions for the period 2000 to 2015, nitrogen oxide emissions have actually increased in China and India for the same period. Emissions from short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as black carbon, are expected to increase in China, India, Africa, the Middle East, and the rest of Asia-Pacific. It is projected that by 2030, India will be the largest regional contributor to on-road emissions of SLCPs, making up about 24 percent of the total.

 ‘Black carbon’, fine particle matter from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, including diesel from vehicles, which can cause serious health and climate impacts. These particles absorb sunlight and generate heat in the atmosphere, warming the air and changing weather patterns and accelerating the rate that ice melts. Because these particles only stay in the air for a few weeks, they are known as Short Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs), meaning lower levels of emissions can quickly have significant positive impacts. Fine particles are also associated with respiratory diseases and heart attacks.

Ultrafine particulate matter or PM2.5 has grave adverse impacts on public health, specifically aggravating asthma, respiratory diseases, and premature deaths.

FIA Foundation outlines key areas to target in order to reduce air pollution from vehicles, such as

  • Reducing ‘black carbon’ from diesel vehicles
  • Addressing emissions from motorbikes and 3-wheelers
  • Coordinating initiatives on green freight
  • Improving inspection and maintenance of vehicles
  • Strong emissions standards for second-hand vehicles

Installation of pollution control devices such as diesel particulate filters (DPFs) have been recommended to reduce soot emissions from motor vehicles. DPFs require very low sulfur levels in fuel and engines that are at least Euro 4 compliant. This requirement limits implementation, especially in countries where fuel and vehicle standards are still low and are poorly enforced. Additional challenges include cumbersome maintenance cleaning and recharging and increased amount of diesel enthusiasts. A solution includes having renewed efforts to curb ultrafine particles and black carbon emissions, specifically from diesel engines.

Two and three wheeler vehicles are increasing in number, especially in the Philippines, India and Indonesia. These small vehicles are a greater source of emissions than their four-wheeled counterparts. Some strategies of reducing emissions include introducing alternative fuels and vehicles, such as electric ones, and mandating fuel-neutral and globally-harmonized standards. Feebate-rebate programs have been proposed, but due to lack of enforcement, Euro 1- and 2-compliant vehicles continue to run. Action needs to be taken on 2- and 3-wheel motor vehicles by setting universal standards on requiring catalytic converters to decrease emissions.

Improving the energy and environmental efficiency of the freight transport sector is important for reducing global black and CO2 emissions, as heavy-duty trucks are seen to be the largest emitters of these emissions. Managing freight requires a program to reduce tailpipe emissions, as well as comprehensive analysis of freight logistics, road networks and multi-modal transport to reduce GHG and pollutant emissions and improve sustainability and development status of countries around the world. Creating a global green freight program will help reduce the heavy impact on the environment and fuel consumption that freight causes.

Vehicle fuel economy and emissions performance decreases with time and use. Decline in performance can be minimized by regular maintenance to identify units that require maintenance to improve performance. Effective inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs are the most cost-effective way to improve air quality through emissions reduction. However, challenges include a lack of capacity and resources to conduct, facilitate and oversee I/M operations, leading to a lack of effective implementation. Focus needs to be directed on optimizing automotive performance and reducing health impacts through I/M of motor vehicles, since they have a high potential to avoid particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other emissions.

Importing used vehicles from developed countries that are still compliant with relatively good emissions standards in receiving country may provide low-cost alternative for owners with more outdated and non-compliant vehicles, but may unintentionally postpone the adoption of better fuel economy and emissions standards in the receiving country. Incorporating strong emission standards for imported second hand vehicles can raise awareness of the heavily pollution and inefficient fuel use that second-hand vehicles cause and limit their importation.