Every time year, emissions from cars continue to rise. Global emissions of carbon dioxide from passenger cars in 2000 were 2.5 gigatons. By 2018, the last year for which data is available, it had grown to 3.6 gigatons. The reason? People continue to buy gas. In 2021, about 15 million new cars were sold in the United States, which is 2.5 percent more than the unusually low number in 2020. In the UK, 1.65 million new cars came out of dealer lots. The good news? Some people trade their fossil fuel vehicles for cleaner alternatives. Nearly half a million Americans bought an all-electric vehicle (EV) last year, while almost 750,000 EVs were sold in the UK. And last year EV accounted for 8.3 percent of new car sales worldwide. But the Toyota Corolla’s sale of the Toyota Prius is not a complete story, mainly because the Corolla isn’t just disappearing.

While some old cars with internal combustion engines are sent for disassembly, which safely break them, many do not. That traded Corolla is likely to hit a cargo ship and move further down the value chain. “It depends on where you are in the world, where your used cars are going,” says Sheila Watson, deputy director of environment and research at the FIA ​​Foundation, a nonprofit air quality improvement company. Old cars in Western Europe are usually packed and shipped to Eastern Europe. When they have reached the end of their service life there, but are still fit for traffic, they are sent south to Africa. Junk cars of North America travel south to developing South American countries; Asian vehicles are shipped across the continent until they are deemed unpleasant there to consumers, and then they are shipped to Africa.

Between 2015 and 2020, consumers around the world bought 10.2 million electric vehicles. But over the same period, 23 million used cars (LDVs) were exported – cars, vans, SUVs and pickups. Two-thirds go to developing countries, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). And when they arrive at the other end of the world, they continue to pollute the environment.

This is a primordial principle: out of sight, out of mind. Except that the planet doesn’t work that way. “The whole world has to move one way or another,” Watson says. In London, the dirtiest vehicle is now banned from driving on the vast majority of the city’s roads. The next city councils of Amsterdam pushed cars out of the city center, which made the center of the Dutch capital a paradise for bicycles and pedestrians. Oslo plans to ban all fossil fuel vehicles from entering the city by 2026. But almost as quickly as these polluting vehicles disappear from one city, they appear in another.

The shift towards clean air policy is also spreading unevenly across the global north. For every Oslo or London, there are other cities in Europe and North America that are paving new roads and filling them with vehicles that pollute the environment. Ferdinand Dudenhofer, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Duisburg, Germany, says fixing imports of third- or fourth-hand cars in developing countries could distract from the root cause of vehicle pollution: 90 percent of cars worldwide are sold in Canada, China, Europe and the United States.

But as EV sales grow in more affluent countries, there is a risk that more and more polluting cars will make their way into the developing world. Africa already receives one in four used LDVs from global supplies – between 2015 and 2020, the continent imported about 5.5 million used cars. “There are a lot of really cheap cars,” says Dudenhofer, and many have experienced three or four owners in their lifetime. Of the 146 developing countries surveyed by UNEP in 2020, only 18 have banned the import of used cars. Only 47 countries had policies that UNEP considered “good” or “very good” regarding the import of used LDVs. Since then, the situation has improved: in November 2021, it was updated that 62 countries had good or very good policies. This is partly due to legislative changes: in January 2021, 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States introduced a directive requiring that all imported vehicles meet the equivalent of Euro 4 / IV emission standards. This limited the level of environmental pollution of vehicles sold after 2005, with vehicles older than 10 years not allowed in the country.

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