Used Cars and Air Pollution: A Growing Problem in Africa

In our day and age, many governments around the world are placing an increasing emphasis on their countries functioning in an environmentally friendly way. One of the measures that some have already taken – and many others plan to take in the near future – is the phasing out of the gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. Countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, plan to ban the use of fossil fuel vehicles as soon as 2030, while others, like the United Kingdom, France, and many others, plan to do the same a decade later.

This transition from fossil fuel toward renewable and clean energy sources is laudable, to say the least… but what happens to all the gas and diesel-powered cars in these countries?

Most of them end up exported, either new or used, in countries with fewer restrictions that are more sensitive to prices. Thus, Eastern Europe and Africa are becoming the dumping ground for old cars discarded by Europe.

The efforts to phase out polluting fossil fuel-powered cars from Western and Northern Europe has caused the migration of the pollution problem further East. According to research published by Transport & Environment (T&E), a non-government organization based in Brussels, Belgium, Poland alone has imported more than 850,000 used cars from other EU countries in 2017, with almost half of them being polluting diesel-powered vehicles. And the same happens in many African countries, too.

Statistics show that, aside from a handful of countries that have banned the import of used cars, many African nations absorb high quantities of used cars from Europe, the USA, and Japan. While 25 African countries have placed a maximum age limit on imported cars, these regulations are often weakly enforced – or not at all – meaning that, quite often, cars as old as 25 years or over, usually the most polluting ones, end up on the streets of African cities.

Given the rapid increase in car ownership in African countries (Nigeria is expected to see its fleet grow by 80% in the coming years) and the number of used cars effectively “dumped” on their markets, this may become a major public health issue sooner than expected. African countries, in general, import most of their cars from Germany, one of the biggest automakers in the world.

The growing number of old, polluting vehicles is one side of the issue – the other is related to fuels. In many African countries, access to clean automotive fuels is also a problem, and so is the weak enforcement of environmental standards. Even if a high-quality, new car is used, these low-quality fuels make it impossible to reach its environmental benefits – and the harm done grows exponentially in the case of an old, used car with an inferior environmental standard.

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