Car makers address air quality concerns
Publish date: 08 August 2017
Issue Number: 519
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: Climate Change
Worsening global air pollution is a real concern, and car makers are grappling with their responsibility to curtail it, notes Legalbrief. Researchers behind a new study says deteriorating air quality caused by climate change will trigger thousands more premature deaths by the end of this century if left unaddressed, notes a Cape Argus report. The researchers, led by the University of North Carolina, said Africa is ‘mostly spared by this facet of climate change’ because increases in precipitation on the continent will drive air pollution downward. Published last week, the study, details how increases in climate-driven air pollution will influence future global deaths. By 2030, it reveals, 60 000 more premature deaths will be caused by climate-driven air pollution. By 2100, this figure will have soared to 260 000 more. The study has been described as the most comprehensive yet, because results were gleaned from several of the world’s top climate change modelling groups in the US, the UK, France, Japan and New Zealand. ‘As climate change affects air pollutant concentrations, it can have a significant impact on health worldwide, adding to the millions of people who die from air pollution each year,’ said Jason West, who led the research.
German car makers last week offered to help cut inner-city pollution by updating the software of 5m diesel cars in an attempt to avert vehicle bans and repair their reputation. According to an SABC News report, since Volkswagen admitted to cheating US diesel emission tests in September 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has come under fire for not doing enough to crack down on vehicle pollution and for being too close to powerful car makers. The issue has become a central campaign topic ahead of next month's national election, prompting the government to call crisis talks to show it is taking action as environmental groups try to force bans on diesel vehicles. The Ministers are also wary of angering the drivers of 15m diesel vehicles and damaging an industry that is the country's biggest exporter and provides about 800 000 jobs. The VDA car makers lobby say its members had agreed to pay for software updates of 5m cars, including 2.5m VW cars that have already been recalled, to reduce their average emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides by 25-30%. The move should reduce pollution at least as much as driving bans proposed in major cities, the VDA said. It added that the car industry knows it 'has lost a lot of trust....we must and will work on winning back that trust'.
But, major car makers are being accused of clutching at straws after they agreed to fit software to 5m diesel vehicles in Germany to reduce harmful emissions by up to 30%. A report in The Guardian notes that VW, Daimler, BMW and Opel made the decision at a summit with leading politicians in Berlin. Environmental campaigners said the car makers had not gone far enough. Areeba Hamid, a clean air campaigner for Greenpeace said they were ‘clutching at straws’. ‘Independent research has shown that some of these diesel cars emit up to 18 times more nitrogen oxide than the legal limit, so reducing it by 30% is nowhere near enough. This means that people across cities will continue to be exposed to the dangerous health impacts of air pollution for much longer.’ She said if the car makers were serious about reducing their role in the air pollution crisis they should ditch diesel and invest in electric cars. Jenny Bates, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said: ‘If manufacturers can fix car software to help reduce pollution, why haven’t they done this already? The German car makers’ announcement is little more than tinkering under the bonnet following the diesel-gate scandal they were largely responsible for.’
Technological advances mean fossil fuel in cars could be phased out within decades but switching to electric carries its own environmental and economic concerns as more and more countries announce radical plans. According to a Mail & Guardian Online report, Britain last week said it would ‘end the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars’ by 2040, following similar proposals by France earlier this month to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution. China issued plans last year requiring that 12% of cars sold be battery-powered or plug-in hybrids by 2020, while India has said it wants to replace all vehicles with electric vehicles by 2030. Norway hopes to end sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2025, and other countries such as Sweden and Denmark and Finland have expressed similar ambitions to phase out fossil fuel engines. ‘Given the rate of improvement in battery and electric vehicle technology over the last 10 years, by 2040 small combustion engines in private cars could well have disappeared without any government intervention,’ said Alastair Lewis, professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York. But Flavien Neuvy, economist at French automobile anlaysts Observatoire Cetelem, said it would be a ‘bold bet’ to suggest that the roads will be filled with only electric cars by 2040. ‘In reality, there are many other fuels, such as gas, hydrogen, and manufacturers are investing heavily in the self-drive car,’ he added. Neuvy questioned how the extra electricity would be produced, whether there were enough resources to produce electric batteries, how many charging points would be needed and how the cars would be recycled.