Asia leapfrogging to zero-tailpipe emissions to beat air pollution

by Bert Fabian for the CCAC secretariat - 5 February, 2019
Progressive policies are needed to mainstream electric vehicles.

Smoggy skies and dangerous levels of air pollution in Bangkok over the last week highlight the continual struggle cities in the Asia Pacific region face from deteriorating air quality due to continued economic growth, urbanization, and the growing demand for energy and transport.

Inefficient and unconnected public transport systems have driven more people to use cars and motorcycles daily, further worsening traffic jams, increasing fossil fuel use, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions in cities.

While many countries have moved to better quality fuels and vehicles, several still do not have policies and plans for adopting more progressive standards. A key issue for many countries wanting to improve fuel quality is getting the necessary funding to support refinery upgrades.

Many countries that subsidize fuel and have state-owned refineries are in a very difficult position to move towards the cleaner fuels necessary to improve air quality and enable the adoption of more advanced vehicle technologies. Bangkok, for example, saw substantial air pollution improvements in early 2010s when Thailand adopted Euro 4 vehicle emission standards and fuel quality. But over the last 9 years the country has not adopted, or announced a timeline for adopting, stricter vehicle emission standards. The sheer increase in the number of vehicles has outpaced the air quality gains in the city and is once again contributing to rising air pollution, particularly in the cooler months.

Going electric for public transportation, 2-3 wheelers, and cars is now seen by many countries and cities as a key strategy to mitigate air pollution and the rising costs of fossil fuel consumption.

UN Environment’s Asia-Pacific office organized a side-event on “Electrifying the Transport Sector to Beat Air Pollution” on 24 January 2019 at the Third forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia in Singapore to inform government representatives and other stakeholders of the state-of-the-art policies, plans, and opportunities for mainstreaming electric mobility in the region. Representatives from the Singapore Land Transport Authority, the Asian Development Bank, BYD (Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer), Grab (transportation network company), and Clean Air Asia joined UN Environment at the side-event.

e-mobility photo.jpg
"Electrifying the Transport Sector to Beat Air Pollution” panel at the Third forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia in Singapore

Delegates were presented with findings from the recent report Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-Based Solutions, which show current government policies are not enough to achieve better air quality and reduce greenhouse gases. The report recommends that governments continue to put in place progressive policies including mainstreaming electric mobility to achieve better air quality.   

Discussions showcased many efforts in Asia Pacific, including current efforts supported by development institutions like the Asian Development Bank and private sector actors like BYD and Grab.  The role of government is also very important in mainstreaming electric mobility. The Singapore Land Transport Authority demonstrated the need to integrate electric mobility into an over-all sustainable transport framework and/or strategy. Electric mobility must complement and support the over-all transport system, and not become a stand-alone policy of national and local governments.

Policy examples from countries around the region include Mongolia’s excise tax that favours electric and hybrid vehicles and China’s strategy of providing subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles and removing some restrictions on these vehicles in some cities. China’s policies have led it to become the global leader in the supply of and demand for electric vehicles.

The report Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-Based Solutions is collaboration between UN Environment, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the Asia Pacific Clean Air Partnership.