Africa and Global Used Car Import has been a long hauled topic for debate among businessmen and environmentalists. With fortification of emission standards for new vehicles in developed countries, cars as old as 15 years no longer able to meet emission standards are heavily exported to Africa, on the cost of air quality, at cheap export prices.

Africa and Global Used Car Import

Any child playing at the Uhuru garden — a recreation park in the middle of the Kenyan capital Nairobi — is oblivious to the health dangers in the air around him or her. But that air is laden with toxic pollutants, which have become a leading cause of respiratory disease in Kenyan cities. 

According to the World Health Organization, 15,000 children under five died each day in 2016 due to respiratory disease.

But the vehicles that contribute a large part of that pollution trace a long path to Africa.

As emission standards become rigid in the European Union, Japan, and the United States, cars no longer able to coupe-up are being sold and exported to regions in Africa like Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Kenya and more.

25 countries in Africa have ruled out the importation of used cars above 25 years in age. However, due to weak enforcement, it isn’t implemented in many regions 

A recent report from the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment indicates that Germany and China account for 14 percent of car imports to Africa, while Japan and the US account for 15 percent.

Trade-in Used Vehicles in Africa

As the population in African cities grows, unreliable public transport systems mean the demand for cars is increasing. But low purchasing parity, lack of implementation of strict emission controls, and a low fuel quality have contributed to an incursion of used cars that have been pushed out of developed countries by more rigid emission rules. 

The Dieselgate scandal was unearthed in late 2015 when German automaker Volkswagen was found to have intentionally programmed its diesel engines to show lower-than-actual emission of pollutants.

Reconfigured software demonstrated Volkswagen cars to meet the emission standards during laboratory testing. And when they were on the road, the same vehicles emitted up to 40 times more nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), a major air pollutant.

In the wake of the Dieselgate scandal, the European Union introduced stringent measures to ensure cars comply with the EU emission standards.

“Before being released to the market, new car models are now tested on-road in addition to the standard laboratory emission testing,” Peter Mock, EU regional lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told DW.

On-road inspections check nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide levels, while hydrocarbon emission levels are tested in the laboratory, Mock explained.

Approximately 11 million of Volkswagen cars were relocated around the world between 2009 and 2015. 

Resentment to Dieselgate speared the value of older diesel cars in Europe to plummet. Thus there was a surge of such cars being exported to Eastern Europe and beyond.

What goes into our air?

Vehicle emissions include toxic chemicals, heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and fine particulate matter, which impact public health and heighten climate change risks.

Vehicle engine combustion and fuel evaporation processes release dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone (also known as smog) and NOx. 

Moreover, they also emit lead and other toxicants such as benzene and harmful formaldehyde.

World Health Organization figures show that globally, around 7 million people die annually from exposure to polluted air.

Vehicle Emission is a Major source of Air Pollution

Mr. Opondo, an executive director of the Environmental Compliance Institute based in Nairobi, warns that transportation is becoming a major source of air pollution in African cities.

He said “Cities in Africa have high particulate matter, hydrogen oxide, hydrocarbon, and carbon monoxide concentrations, recorded along busy roads and intersections,” he further explained.

Africa and Global Used Car Import resulted in a rise death tolls due to air pollution, much more population are sickened.

Research indicates that of the 4.2 million annual global chronic respiratory diseases, nearly 3.3 million occur in low- or middle-income countries. This includes cardiovascular and respiratory disease such as stroke and asthma, as well as increased risk of cancer.

Lack of standards and dirty fuel

The air quality, and mobility program officer at UNEP, Mrs. Jane Akumu, informed organizations that the major problem is how emissions standards, strict emission inspection, and clean vehicle fuels are lacking in the majority of African nations.

Image: most African countries are lacking strict emission scheme

“Most African countries are yet to adopt the euro 4 standards, which were required in Europe in 2006,” she explained.

“High sulfur levels in diesel are also deteriorating the efficiency of emission technologies in Africa,” Akumu continued.

Poor-quality and untreated fuels categorized as illegal waste are being exported to Africa. Besides a lack of refineries, cleaner diesel is considered too expensive by some governments. 

The majority of African countries use fuel with sulfur levels of 2,500 to 10,000 ppm (parts per million). 

Combustion of highly sulfurous fuels results in emissions of sulfur dioxide, a major air pollutant.

Akumu urged the public to utilize cleaner fuel to implement cleaner vehicle technology effectively. “Even if Africa imports a high-quality car, the maximum environmental benefits are not realized due to low-quality fuel,” she pointed out.

Diesel Fuel Sulfur Levels across the Globe

UNEP is supporting Africa to implement the euro 4 emission standards which require 50 ppm of sulfur in diesel cars. “Europe and Japan are at 10 ppm,” she noted.

However, this can be noted as progress, as 11 African nations, six of them in Eastern Africa, have adhered sulfur fuel standards of 50 ppm.

Beyond that, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is working with UNEP to harmonize emission and fuel standards in West Africa.

But standards will have to be accompanied by rigorous enforcement to have a positive impact on the looming air pollution crisis facing many African cities.