A report published by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) revealed that an estimated 14 million old, pollution-emitting cars have been exported from rich countries and “dumped” on developing nations between 2014 and 2018. More than half of these vehicles have been sent to Africa.
Experts have found that 80% of these cars have failed to meet the safety and environment standards in the country they were exported from. The vehicles are not only prone to causing accidents, but the air pollution that they create contributes heavily to climate change, as well as having health impacts.
In a press release, one of the authors of the UNEP report, Rob de Jong, said that most of the vehicles caused a lot more air pollution than cars that are approved according to the Euro 4 emission standard, which is the acceptable limit for exhaust emissions caused by a vehicle being sold in Europe.
"Those vehicles emit 90% more emissions because they are not meeting this minimal standard," said de Jong.
The UNEP report found that regulations on car imports in most of the 146 developing countries they studied were "weak" or "very weak".
Jane Akumu from UNEP explains that some African countries do not have a solid grading standard when it comes to accepting imported cars. “Around 30 countries [in] Africa do not have any age limit on cars. So, any kind of car of any kind of age, can come in,” she said.
The authors of the report go on to call the cars both "dangerous and dirty."
They believe that most of these vehicles are responsible for increased levels of road accidents in many poorer African and Asian countries. The cars also emit fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, which are major sources of air pollution in many cities.
De Jong also explains that along with being unroadworthy and environmentally harmful, most of the cars were tampered with before being imported in order to remove valuable parts. The replacement of these parts with cheap alternatives makes them more dangerous to operate.
"They cut out catalytic converters, because the platinum value is worth $500. And they put in a piece of steel pipe and weld it back in," he said.
"They have illegally removed the airbags, because they have a value in Europe; they have illegally removed the anti-lock brake system because it has a value and is being sold on the black market,” he continued.
The cars in question were mostly exported from Europe, Japan, and the United States, with the majority of them coming from the Netherlands.
The Dutch authorities are aware and concerned about the trade of these cars, and are hoping to take immediate action, according to the BBC.
"The Netherlands cannot address this issue alone," said Stientje van Veldhoven, the Netherlands’ minister for the environment.
"Therefore, I will call for a coordinated European approach, and a 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."
There is now a growing awareness in some African countries of the dangers that the cars being imported have, and some countries have begun to tighten their regulations before taking in these vehicles.
Morocco and Kenya have applied age limits to the cars that they will import, with the former only permitting cars less than five years old, and the latter accepting vehicles that are less than eight years old.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which represents 15 countries, has set cleaner fuel and vehicle standards from January 2021.
Car ownership around the world currently sits at 1.4 billion vehicles, and the number is expected to reach 2 billion in the next 20 years. The majority of this growth will come from developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
With this in mind, the authors of the UNEP report are calling on the leaders of both the exporting and importing countries to take actions on this matter.
"On one hand, I think it's unethical that these developed countries export vehicles that are not roadworthy on their own roads," said de Jong. "On the other hand, why have the importing countries been waiting so long to put in place some minimum standards? So I think the onus is not only on the exporting country, it's really a joint responsibility."