Roadmap for less-polluting vehicles

Stricter standards could reduce health costs in China by USD 150 billion by 2030. Photo: Ideas Compete/CC BY-NC-ND

In the absence of new policies, premature deaths from vehicle-related PM exposure in urban areas will increase by 50 per cent worldwide by 2030.

Without new actions to limit vehicle emissions, air pollution and associated health impacts from road transportation are projected to increase in many countries around the world. However, setting stringent limits on vehicle emissions can force the introduction of technologies that will drastically cut emissions of local air pollutants. This would temporarily decouple pollutant emissions from growing vehicle activity and significantly reduce emissions that contribute to serious health problems.

This is shown in a new report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) that estimates global pollution from vehicles through 2030 and premature mortality associated with exposure to direct emissions of fine particles from vehicles in urban areas over the same period. The report lays out a global policy roadmap that could significantly alter trends in pollution and mortality, ultimately preventing more than 210,000 early deaths annually.

Regulations in North America, the EU and Japan have resulted in lower vehicle tailpipe emissions. The application of advanced after-treatment technology and engine tuning, in combination with ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel (less than ten parts per million, ppm), can reduce tailpipe particulate matter (PM) emissions by over 99 per cent compared with uncontrolled engines. In countries that have adopted strict standards, the health impacts of vehicle emissions are expected to drop through 2030.

Many countries around the world have adopted policies patterned on the European regulation, but the significant majority of these have not implemented the Euro 6/VI stage, the latest and most stringent regulatory level.

The ICCT study found that if that lag persists and present trends in vehicle activity continue, the result will be a 70 per cent increase in early deaths from tailpipe PM emissions by 2030, compared to the present.

Conversely, if all countries were to follow an accelerated roadmap to vehicle emission regulations equivalent to Euro 6/VI standards, in tandem with fuel-quality regulations limiting the sulphur content to ten ppm, early deaths globally from road vehicle emissions would fall by 75 per cent in the year 2030, representing a cumulative gain of 25 million additional years of life. As this analysis does not capture rural impacts or secondary pollutant formation in the atmosphere, these results should be considered a lower bound estimate. The policy road map would also reduce emissions of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant that causes near-term warming effects.

Diesel vehicles, primarily heavy-duty trucks and buses, are prime targets for emission reduction. Heavy-duty diesels accounted for more than 80 per cent of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from on-road vehicles in 2010.

The introduction of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and diesel particulate filter (DPF) technologies has enabled significant tailpipe emission reductions from diesel vehicles. SCR reduces nitrogen oxides (NOx) and allows for engine tuning that produces a 75 per cent reduction in PM with the use of a diesel oxidation catalyst, while DPFs provide an additional 90–95 per cent PM reduction. Low-sulphur diesel (less than 50 ppm, but ideally 10 ppm) must be available to enable these technologies to function effectively.

As vehicles in countries with advanced vehicle emission standards are becoming less polluting, the share of global adverse health consequences from road vehicles is shifting from North America and Europe to other regions with higher vehicle fleet growth and more-polluting vehicles. China and India will bear the two largest single-country health risks, accounting for 65 per cent of the global increase in early deaths by 2030 without further policy action. In contrast, the accelerated policy timelines of this report could prevent 90,000 premature deaths in these two countries in 2030 alone.

Less-polluting fuels and vehicles are a good investment. In the US, control of heavy-duty highway diesel emissions alone will result in environmental and public health benefits of USD70 billion annually, at a cost of USD4 billion per year. In China, a national programme of fuel and vehicle standards could garner USD150 billion in public health benefits in 2030, and in India, every dollar invested to reach the most stringent emission standards and ultra-low-sulphur fuel by 2020 would return nine dollars in benefits.

For countries that have implemented the most stringent tailpipe emissions and fuel sulphur-content limits, the California LEV III and US EPA Tier 3 standards form the basis for a next generation of standards, promising additional reductions in NOx and hydrocarbon emissions for both light-duty and some heavy-duty vehicles.

Christer Ågren

The report: The impact of vehicle and fuel standards on premature mortality and emissions (November 2013). Published by ICCT.

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