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Running Regulations: United Nations Environment Programme tackling used vehicle export regulations

Steve Fletcher with the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC) brought this new report to the attention of Collision Repair magazine and Canadian Auto Recyclers, as many of these older vehicles exported to countries without standards are often consider ELVs or end-of-life vehicles in the originating country.

This report highlights the global question of when does a used vehicle becomes an ELV–something nations are grappling with everywhere. In addition to exporting higher emissions vehicles to countries with lower standards, oftentimes these countries do not have the same stringent vehicle recycling standards, so another example of developed countries exporting their pollution to countries not set up to handle the waste.

ARC has worked with Environment Canada to confirm that the export of non-depolluted vehicles is a violation of the Basel Convention on the export of waste. But it is a problem that plagues Canada as well as most developed nations.

Nairobi, Kenya ⁠— The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is prepared to take part in a new initiation supporting the introduction of global minimum used vehicle standards, following a United Nations (UN) report revealing a significant effect on the environment and climate change.

A recently released United Nations (UN) 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.

According to the report, the fast-growing global vehicle fleet is a major contributor to air pollution and climate change. The UN says, globally, the transport sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, vehicle emissions are a significant source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are major causes of urban air pollution.

“Cleaning up the global vehicle fleet is a priority to meet global and local air quality and climate targets,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “Over the years, developed countries have increasingly exported their used vehicles to developing countries; because this largely happens unregulated, this has become the export of polluting vehicles.”

“The lack of effective standards and regulation is resulting in the dumping of old, polluting and unsafe vehicles,” she added. “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 makes a compelling case for regulations around imports of used vehicles. Countries that have implemented measures to govern the import of used vehicles⁠—notably age and emissions standards⁠—often have 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 the EURO4 European vehicles emission standard; as a result, it receives only relatively advanced and clean used vehicles from Europe.

On another hand, 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 EURO4 European Union 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. The Netherlands cannot address this issue alone. Therefore, I will call for a coordinated European approach, and 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” Stientje Van Veldhoven, The Netherlands Minister for the Environment, said.

Poor quality used vehicles can also lead to more accidents; many of the countries with “very weak” or “weak” used vehicle regulations⁠—such as Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Burundi⁠—also have very high traffic death rates, according to the report.

“The impact of old polluting vehicles is clear. Air quality data in Accra confirms that transport is the main source of air pollution in our cities. This is why Ghana is prioritizing 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 this month has imposed a 10-year age limit for used vehicle imports,” said Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, Ghana’s Minister for Environment, Science, Technology & Innovation.

Last month, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set cleaner fuels and vehicle standards from January 2021. ECOWAS members also encouraged the introduction of age limits for used vehicles.

To view the full UN report, click here.

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