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  Home News and events General environmental news Exploding growth in vehicle numbers in Asia posing pollution headaches
Exploding growth in vehicle numbers in Asia posing pollution headaches

MICHAEL CASEY Published 2006-12-14 | Page YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Asia's economic boom has caused a surge in car and motorcycle sales, undercutting efforts to promote public transport in the region and clean up its dirty skies, delegates told a pollution conference Thursday.

While some Asian governments were praised for toughening vehicle emissions standards, and most have phased out leaded gasoline, many of the region's big cities are doing little to enforce laws or establish effective bus and train networks, they said.

"Transport is growing faster in most cities so transport emissions are a big part of the problem," Lew Fulton, a transport expert with the United Nations Environmental Program, told the three-day Better Air Quality Conference 2006 in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.

"We're not only seeing increases in pollutant emissions. We're seeing huge increases in fuel consumption which is coupled tightly with (carbon dioxide) emissions," he said. "It's costing cities and countries ever increasing amounts of foreign exchange with the high oil prices that we've got."

The meeting - one of the biggest air quality conferences in the region - comes as Asia begins to come to terms with the downside of its double-digit economic growth rates, especially in India and China. Soot from coal-fired power plants, greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and the haze caused by slash-and-burn land clearing activities have all helped turn the region into the world's most polluted.

The World Health Organization said increased pollution in Asia is estimated to be causing as many as 537,000 premature deaths each year, as well as a rise in cardiopulmonary and respiratory illnesses. It is also having economic ramifications, as China estimates it could be slowing the country's growth and Hong Kong fears its foul air is scaring off investors.

The pace of the transport sector's growth is causing massive traffic jams in many cities and is projected to contribute to 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the next 20 to 30 years.

"The speed of motorization is so fast in Asia. For example, vehicle fleets double in about five years in an average Asian country," said Cornie Huizenga, head of the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities.

Annual automobile production in India has increased by 20 per cent each year since 2000, while China's has grown eight-fold in 10 years to 2.6 million, and it is poised to become the world's largest car producer by 2015, according to the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, an environmental and economic think tank.

In less developed countries such as Vietnam or Indonesia, the problem is motorbikes. Hanoi has gone from almost no motorcycles 10 years ago to 1.5 million today, according to the Swiss Vietnamese Clean Air Project. Indonesia's fleet has doubled in the past five years to 33 million, according to the government, dwarfing car ownership which has only reached around 7.4 million.

With no sign that vehicle growth will slow, delegates called on governments to boost their fuel efficiency standards and promote the purchase of more fuel-efficient cars. They also called for governments to increase their spending on clean-burning public transport projects and design roadways to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.

Most importantly, many experts said governments need to establish programs to test and enforce vehicle emission standards, limit the import of second-hand vehicles while slowing car ownership by slapping taxes on the vehicles.

"The Singapore example is the most balanced approach in that it makes it very expensive to own and use a car both with road pricing and purchase of the car itself," said Jamie Leather, a transport expert with the Asian Development Bank.


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