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source: www.unep.org/GEO/geo3/



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Local air pollution has declined with the advent of catalytic converters and cleaner fuels. However, improvements in fuel efficiency for individual vehicles have been balanced out by the growth in the volume of traffic…
  • in a few cities, pollution levels have decreased. For example, in Japan, high fuel prices, technological advances and strict standards have reduced SO2 and particulate emissions, and eliminated lead emissions from transport. However, NOx emissions in Tokyo and Osaka have not declined sufficiently because of an increasing number of vehicles. This situation is common in cities with growing levels of private transport;

  • global production of motor vehicles is increasing at least 4 times faster than human numbers in percentage terms. The rate is predicted to accelerate; so it is not surprising that road transport is currently the principal battleground for environmentalists who view the greenhouse gasses spewing out of car exhausts as one of the prime reasons for climate change;

  • it is believed motor vehicles contribute between 14 to 17% of the world's total CO2emissions, a figure that is to increase substantially in the coming years. By 2025, it is expected there will be one billion vehicles discharging as much as 1,800 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year - the equivalent of almost 1/3 of the 6,000 million tonnes of carbon emissions from all sources today;

  • in the United States transport emits 33% of total carbon emissions; in the European Union the figure is 29% with 15% coming from cars, according to FIA Foundation. In the United Kingdom, for example, 2005 data from the Office of National Statistics show that UK greenhouse gas emissions from private cars rose from 59.6 million tonnes in 1990 to 67.8 million tonnes in 2003, an increase of 13.8%;

  • a decade ago, automobiles in China guzzled around 10% of the country's total oil usage. Today, cars now consume 1/3 of all the oil used. This growing appetite has raised environmental concerns both within China and abroad. Given China's huge population, a US rate of vehicle ownership would mean 600 million Chinese cars on the road - more than the total number of cars in the world in 2005. China is already the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter. It could easily top US emissions if its rate of vehicle ownership gets anywhere near the US level;

  • according to the International Energy Outlook 2004, the road system in China still is failing to keep up with the growth in car use, and major cities are already facing gridlock. The Beijing Evening News has reported that fuel consumption per kilometre for cars in China is 10 to 20% higher than in developed countries, and Chinese vehicle emission standards allow cars to emit almost twice as much carbon monoxide and 3 times as much hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides as do the US emission standards. Air pollution has been estimated to cost China roughly 5% of GDP annually; (1)

  • in 2004, Hong Kong had 79 days over 100 (very high) on the air pollution index. Yet, Hong Kong is one of the less polluted cities in China. 2/3 of Chinese cities have air quality below World Health Organization standards - and 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China, including Beijing. China's environmental agency calculates that living in Chinese cities does more damage to a person's lungs than smoking two packs of cigarettes a day; (2)

  • petrol consumption will no doubt be curbed by taxes, better technologies or the use of alternative fuels. But demand for cars will go on surging. Today, cars cause most of Beijing’s air pollution. The city is often enveloped in a dirty haze, notwithstanding regulations that require cars to meet the European Union's Euro III emissions standards by 2008, in time for the Olympics. The government, aware of this, is spending billions to improve public transport in the big cities. By 2008 Beijing is due to have 200km of underground track, double the current length. New fuel-efficiency standards have also been enacted; (3)

  • methane (another global warming gas, 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) is also emitted by cars. The level is quite low, only about 1% of UK emissions, for example. But, they facilitate the annual build-up of methane in the atmosphere - 0.9% increase per year - by emitting large quantities of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide interacts and uses up hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere. Emissions of carbon monoxide increase global warming by removing a defence against the build-up of methane;

  • disposal of car tyres is a big issue in almost all industrialised countries. On a global basis between 700 million and 1 billion new tyres are manufactured each year and this figure is rising with increased population, vehicle ownership and usage. Currently over 400,000 tonnes per annum of post-consumer tyres are generated, for example, in the UK. In 1998 it is estimated that 11% of post-consumer tyres were exported, 62% were reused, recycled or sent for energy recovery, and 23% were sent to landfill;

  • car dumps themselves cause local pollution with high concentrations of lead, cadmium and zinc. In Western Europe, Japan and the USA over 40 million cars are discarded every year. On average, each dumped vehicle contains 6 litres of lubricating oils, 3 litres of fuel, 5 litres of cooling liquid and 3 litres of sulphuric acid. 100 million batteries are discarded per year. Their sulphuric acid contents represent a substantial environmental threat.
Roads are responsible for some great engineering achievements, from viaducts to tunnels. To some, they are possessed of aesthetic qualities, evoking images of evasion and dreams of the open road, but…
  • they are far from innocent landscape features. Roads affect ecosystems, interfere with natural drainage and block species migration. Highways, ramps, car parks, but also train tracks and aircraft runways: all consume environmental capital. Transport infrastructure, mainly roads, consumes about 40% of land in urban areas of the OECD (more in North America) and less than 10% in rural areas. The road network occupies 93% of the total area of land used for transport in the EU. Per passenger-kilometre travelled, railways require less than 1/3 of the land taken by passenger cars, aviation even less; (4)

  • surprisingly, perhaps, the length of the total road network per capita has changed little since 1975; indeed, it has fallen in several countries. However, surface area has risen sharply, since the extent of motorways, toll-ways and other restricted roads has increased dramatically. These wider roads require displacement of some 130 times more matter (land, concrete, gravel, sand, tar, etc.) than other roads.

(1) International Energy Outlook 2004. [ www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/oil.html]

(2) Clyde Prestowitz, “China and the Comfortable Road to Ruin”, The Globalist, July 21, 2005.
[ www.theglobalist.com/storyid.aspx?StoryId=4692]

(3) “Dream machines”, Beijing and Shanghai, from The Economist print edition, June 2nd 2005.
[ www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=4032842]

(4) Wiederkehr, P. and Caïd, N., “Transport troubles”, OECD Environment Directorate, August 2002.
[ www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/754/Transport_troubles.html]

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