China VI: A milestone for the world’s transition to soot-free vehicles

On June 28, China officially released the China VI emission standard for new heavy-duty vehicles, which is equivalent to, or in some aspects even more stringent, than the Euro VI emission standard. The China VI standard intends to force diesel particulate filters (DPF) on all new diesel heavy-duty vehicles introduced to the market after July 2021. If effectively implemented, it will transition all new heavy-duty vehicles in China to soot-free emission levels.

Since China is the world’s largest heavy-duty vehicle market, this action signifies a tremendous milestone in the global transition to a soot-free vehicle fleet. As a result of China’s action, we estimate that two-thirds of all new heavy-duty vehicles globally will be soot-free in 2021, compared with 50% if China took no action, as shown in the figure below. 

Sales progress with China VI complaince

The China VI standard is a major step forward in helping China win its battle against air pollution and protecting human health. According to the data released by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, vehicles affected by the China VI standard account for over 90% of particulate matter emissions and nearly 70% of NOX emissions from China’s on-road transportation fleet. These pollutants contribute to ambient PM2.5 and ozone concentrations and lead to heavy haze days. Besides, diesel engine exhaust has been recognized as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO). As is shown in the figure below, the implementation of China VI will result in substantial mid-term and long-term emission reductions. By 2030, particulate matter and NOX emissions from heavy-duty vehicles will be cut by 82% (159,000 metric tons) and 86% (4.5 million metric tons), respectively compared with a baseline without China VI. As a result of these huge emission reductions, China’s annual average PM2.5 and ozone concentrations will be reduced by 5% and 2%, respectively in 2030. More than 29,000 premature deaths will be avoided in 2030 as a result of reduced exposure to PM2.5 and ozone pollution. The health benefits of China VI will continue to increase after 2030 as a growing share of heavy-duty vehicles meet the standards.

emissions difference with and without China VI
Particulate matter and NOx emissions from heavy-duty vehicles in China, with or without the China VI standard.

At the same time, the China VI standard will result in substantial climate co-benefits. The near-term warming impacts of diesel black carbon are up to 3,200 times greater than CO2. Since black carbon particles are short-lived, meaning they remain in the atmosphere only a few weeks, reducing black carbon emissions could have an immediate benefit by slowing the rate of climate change. According to our analysis, the China VI standard will achieve an accumulated black carbon mitigation of 993,000 metric tons over the period 2020 to 2050. If other countries follow China’s example and implement a China/Euro VI-equivalent emission standard for new heavy-duty vehicles no later than 2025, then 84% of the world’s heavy-duty vehicle fleet could be soot-free by 2040. These potential efforts could avoid warming in 2050 equivalent to 15.4% of the 0.5°C achievable by reducing short-lived climate pollutants identified in a 2011 UNEP-WMO assessment.

The benefits of soot-free transport—both for human health and climate change mitigation—present a strong rationale for further action. Earlier this year, we at the ICCT launched the Soot-Free Transport initiative, a communications campaign to increase public awareness of the strategies available to accelerate the transition to soot-free fleets in cities and countries around the globe. The adoption of China VI is surely a huge milestone, but it’s absolutely not the end. More efforts need to be made to adopt soot-free emission standards for the remaining one-third of new heavy-duty vehicles globally, and to accelerate the deployment of zero emission vehicle technologies. In addition, the nonroad sector also needs to be seriously addressed. China’s nonroad sector emits huge amounts of NOX, black carbon and particle emissions annually, but is years behind heavy-duty vehicles in terms of regulation and deployment of emission control strategies.

Inspiringly, major manufacturers have committed to making it easier for cities to purchase vehicles with soot-free transport technologies. Many cities are leading the world in the transition to zero emission vehicles. For example, Shenzhen electrified its entire bus fleet of over 16,000 buses in 2017, achieving zero tailpipe emissions. Meanwhile, more stringent nonroad emission standards are already on the way. For example, China is expected to advance to the China IV nonroad emission standard by 2020. The Euro V nonroad emission standard, which is even more advanced and will take effect next year, is expected to be the one to finally force the deployment of DPFs for new non-road equipment. Clearly, though the Trump administration has been keen to roll back Obama-era vehicle emission standards and climate change mitigation policies, the world is still progressing steadily towards a cleaner shared future.