About 14 million old, poor-quality used cars were exported from Europe, Japan, and the United States between 2015 and 2018, says a new study from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Of those vehicles, a whopping 80% did not meet local minimum safety standards, or the emissions standards set by the European Union.
The majority of these exported junkers—four out of five, in fact—“were sold to poorer countries, with more than half going to Africa,” reports BBC.
In many cases, the UNEP researchers found, the cars had been tampered with, with valuable parts like airbags and antilock braking systems removed in the export country for illegal sale. Such tampering may well be a factor in the high incidence of road accidents in many poor countries in Africa and Asia.
“They cut out catalytic converters, because the platinum value is worth $500,” said report co-author Rob de Jong. “And they put in a piece of steel pipe and weld it back in.” Catalytic converters help prevent the formation and release of poisonous nitrous oxides in exhaust, so removing that equipment will make climate and other pollution worse, notes BBC.
Older cars are also far more likely to be heavy polluters to begin with, even without being stripped down. “In 2017, the average age of a diesel vehicle imported into Uganda was over 20 years old,” UNEP’s Jane Akumu told BBC. “This is the same story for Zimbabwe. In fact, around 30 countries of Africa do not have any age limit on cars. So any kind of car, of any kind of age, can come in.”
Akumu’s observations speak to a larger finding determined by UNEP over its three-year analysis, writes the BBC: that “regulations on car imports in the majority of the 146 countries they studied were ‘weak’ or ‘very weak’.”
While some importing countries have responded independently to the danger (Morocco now only admits cars that are less than five years old, while Kenya has capped the import age at eight years), the report authors are urging both exporters and importers to do more to stem the traffic in “dangerous and dirty” cars.
In a regional effort to address their end of the problem, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States “has set cleaner fuel and vehicle standards from January 2021,” writes the BBC.
On the export end, out of the 14 million shoddy vehicles that were shipped to poorer countries between 2015 and 2018, 54% came from Europe, many of them from the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands cannot address this issue alone,” said Environment Minister Stientje van Veldhoven. She said her country will be calling for “a coordinated European approach, and a close cooperation between European and African governments, to ensure that the EU only exports vehicles that are fit for purpose, and compliant with standards set by importing countries.”