Monday

20th Sep 2021

Opinion

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

  • Annually, the EU exports millions of used cars to countries in the eastern and southern neighbourhood, sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and further (Photo: European Parliament)

Stable economic growth and ever-growing mobility nurses a dynamic EU car market, with abundant new purchases, continuous technical development and large-scale circulation of used cars.

The car market interacts vigorously with EU legislation that already for years aims to make road transport greener.

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However, decarbonising the transport system is a long-term process, which is complicated by cars being individual property with high purchase costs, and because there are big differences between national car fleets.

Logically, EU legislation aims at cars, vans and trucks on EU roads. But as the largest and leading consumer market in the world, the EU has a profound impact on the global flow of products and is therefore one of the main origins of used cars.

Annually, the EU exports millions of used cars to countries in the eastern and southern neighbourhood, sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and further.

Most of those cars are several years old and not fit for a zero-emission mobility system.

Although some member states have scrapping schemes in place, these are not consistent, cover merely a limited number of cars and impose no obligation to eliminate the most polluting cars, trucks and buses.

While the Green Deal stipulates the intention to toughen up policy on the export of waste, there is no plan to revisit the rules for the export of machines that emit atmospheric waste.

Population growth combined with modernisation will create a massive demand for cars in the developing world.

It is unlikely that zero-emission road transport – whether electric or hydrogen – can compete with the affordability and convenience of internal combustion engine cars, due to the required investments in infrastructure, and technology still being in the development phase.

Furthermore, the power markets in developing countries are often unstable and are already under pressure to undergo far-reaching adjustments to accommodate increasing demand for electricity.

Hence, for many consumers that reach the level of modern mobility, a second-hand fossil fuel car from the developed world will be an obvious purchase.

Developing countries dumping ground

One can foresee that in the coming years, when the Green Deal and the growing ambitions of the commission to decarbonise the transport system, is being transposed into legislation, the EU car market will release more and more vehicles that end up in developing countries.

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Essentially, this is a form of carbon leakage that needs to be addressed.

The global character of climate change compels us to take the complete value-chains of a product, including second-hand use, removal and recycling into account. In order to live up to the EU's global leadership ambitions on climate, it is crucial that the overflow of emissions through carbon leakage is halted.

For developing countries, used car imports are difficult to contain or regulate, since they meet an important demand and generate significant import duties, as they often represent a large share of imports. Consequently, in developing countries environmental concerns can only be of secondary importance.

Leading scientists have recently called upon policymakers not only to subsidise sustainable energy, but also to take measures against extraction and use of fossil fuels.

This recommendation needs to be integrated with regard to the backdoor of EU transport policy.

Used car exports are not necessarily wrong and can even be instrumental in making the existing fleet of third countries cleaner.

One can for example think of the obligation for car exporters to take one non-EU car of a low emission standard (Euro 0 to 3) out of the market when exporting ten cars from a cleaner category (Euro 4 to 6).

The extracted car can be scrapped locally or returned to the EU for recycling. This will create a market dynamic in developing countries that tends to phase out the most pollutant vehicles.

Additionally, collective scrapping schemes can be included in bilateral EU-third country agreements and the most polluting cars should not be allowed to leave the EU.

After all, it is also in the EU interest that mobility becomes clean outside the EU borders.

Author bio

Emiel van den Toorn is a researcher and consultant on energy and fuels at Committed to the Environment.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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