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What happened to your first car?

How many cars have you had in your lifetime? Did you have one with a loud engine, guzzling petrol and puffing out great clouds of smoke? As we all move towards safer, cleaner and greener cars across Europe do we ever stop to consider where our old ones went?

UN Environment joined the UN Economic Commission for Europe and other organisations and country representatives in Geneva on 20 February to discuss the problems with exporting heavily polluting and unsafe vehicles around the world.

The conference was titled ‘Ensuring Better Air Quality and Reduced Climate Emissions through Cleaner Used Vehicles’ and addressed both the health and environmental problems associated with the global flow of outdated vehicles with obsolete technology and exhaust systems.

According to Elisa Dumitrescu - a UN Environment transport expert – there are a number of countries that are steering in the wrong direction. “In some countries vehicle age and emissions are actually rising rather than diminishing, even as car technology improves by leaps and bounds in others,” she revealed.

Yet international cooperation has already led to major success on cleaner fuels worldwide. Following a 2002 meeting, by 2006 all 49 sub-Saharan countries had switched to unleaded fuel and many developing and transitional economies now have plans in place to transition to low-sulphur diesel. Cleaner fuels matter because they allow for the use of emission controls on cars, and this is key to lowering pollution from the sector.

In order to have cleaner used vehicles, “we need to have a solution that includes both importers and exporters, but is also informal and flexible enough to allow for quick action on a global scale” Ms. Dumitrescu believes.

Sri Lanka has got on track towards a cleaner environment through the use of age limits on imports (not accepting any more than three years old), coupled with substantial tax breaks on hybrids and electric vehicles. Sugath Yalegama, Director of Planning at the Sri Lankan Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, explained how introducing younger, smaller models onto the market has made a positive impact on the country. His research showed a large increase in the amount of electric and hybrid cars across Sri Lanka since the measures were put in place.

Transport currently accounts for one quarter of all CO2 emissions and is their fastest growing source. UN Environment currently leads the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles and is a founding partner of the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, which supports countries to introduce cleaner, more efficient vehicle standards – including measures to import cleaner ones.

Consumers and importing countries need more information before purchasing or receiving a used car, noted Jan Dusik –UN Environment’s Europe Director – when concluding the event.

“We must work together towards a global solution,” Mr Dusik stressed, while noting how there is “no one-size-fits-all solution” regarding used car standards. UN Environment will now work with partners and through global fora on both import and export measures to address the issue in a holistic manner, he added.

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