Press release

Tightening vehicle and fuels standards to benefit global health and climate

Study finds that more stringent standards worldwide could dramatically reduce premature mortality while cutting short-lived climate pollutant emissions as much as 80%.

Download the report [.pdf]

Simply extending the vehicle emissions and fuel-quality standards already in force in the largest vehicle markets throughout the rest of the world could reduce the number of premature deaths caused annually by vehicle fine particle emissions by 75 percent in 2030, according to a report released today by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). And doing so would have the added benefit of reducing near-term climate impacts through reductions in black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants by the equivalent of 710 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually (GWP-20).

The World Health Organization has identified air pollution as one of the top global risk factors for premature death, responsible for more than 3.2 million early deaths in 2010. Vehicles are a major source of outdoor air pollution, and the ICCT report, The Impact of Stringent Fuel and Vehicle Standards on Premature Mortality and Emissions, quantifies a subset of their health impacts: the effects of direct tailpipe emissions of fine particles (less than 2.5 microns in diameter) on premature mortality in urban areas. The study finds that policy action can avert more than 210,000 early deaths in 2030.

The methodology of this study results in a lower-bound estimate because it only captures primary particle emissions from on-road vehicles in urban areas. The study’s estimate of premature mortality and public health benefits would be substantially increased if additional impacts were included such as exposure to secondary pollutants formed in the atmosphere (including particles and ozone), emissions in rural areas, and emissions from marine, aviation, and off-road equipment. Thus, these results should be used as highly conservative estimates that do not reflect the full contribution from clean fuel and vehicle standards in the future.

The problem is particularly acute in the rapidly developing regions of China and India and in emerging markets, which now account for the majority of vehicle pollutant emissions and attendant health impacts. The study found that unless tighter controls on those emissions are put in place the number of early deaths will increase by 50 percent globally between now and 2030, with China, India, and other countries in Asia-Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East accounting for more than 85 percent of all these premature deaths.

Stringent regulations that have been implemented in Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and South Korea have proven highly effective at curbing pollution from vehicles. By controlling vehicle tailpipe emissions of harmful compounds like nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate matter, as well as fuel sulfur content, these standards will reduce premature mortality related to vehicle emissions in these regions by 80% to 90% below year 2000 levels in 2030. Low-sulfur fuels are a key factor in controlling pollutant emissions because fuels with higher sulfur content not only emit more particulates but also inhibit the use of aftertreatment devices such as particulate filters.

“This analysis clearly demonstrates how cleaner fuels and vehicles are saving lives in the U.S. and Europe. It is time to extend these benefits to the rest of the world,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute and chairman of the board of the ICCT.

The ICCT report lays out a global policy roadmap aimed at significantly altering regional trends in pollution and mortality by accelerating the spread of improved vehicle emissions and fuel-quality regulations. The goal, the report’s authors argue, should be tailpipe emission standards equivalent to the most stringent adopted in Europe, so-called Euro 6/IV standards, in tandem with ultra-low-sulfur fuel (no more than ten parts per million sulfur), by no later than 2025. Countries on the African continent and in the Middle East, with much earlier or no standards in place, are expected to take longer to reach these standards but can still significantly reduce health impacts over the same period by moving through some of the interim regulatory steps.

Committing to the roadmap laid out in the report could reduce early deaths from vehicle emissions by 75 percent in 2030. “This is an aggressive policy path, no question,” said ICCT program director Kate Blumberg, one of the report’s coauthors. “But it’s achievable, based on our assessment of technical feasibility, local capacity, and international experience.”

The report comes as governments gather in Warsaw, Poland, for the opening of the 19th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change with the aim of putting in pathways to a new universal agreement by 2015. A comprehensive study released in January 2013 in the Journal of Geophysical Research found black carbon to be the second largest contributor to climate warming from human activities. And in September the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted new findings on the strong climate impacts of short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon. The IPCC report found that one kilogram of black carbon causes as much climate impact in the near term as 3,200 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Diesel vehicles in particular are a prime target for policies aimed at controlling black carbon.

“The ICCT global policy roadmap laid out in this report saves lives and reduces climate impacts at the same time.” said Ray Minjares, coauthor and lead of the ICCT Program on Climate and Health. “The near-term climate benefits from cleaning up fuels and vehicles at the global level are equivalent to annual the carbon dioxide emissions from cars on the road in Europe today.”

Achim Steiner, United Nations under-secretary general and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director, said: “This report by the ICCT provides further compelling evidence on the significant health and climate benefits from addressing emissions such as black carbon or ‘soot’ from sectors including transportation. While this should not deflect international and domestic attention from the urgency to bring down the principle greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide—fast action on black carbon and other short lived pollutants represent strong, supportive and complimentary measures towards a range of sustainability goals that can touch lives everywhere.”

Cleaner fuels and vehicles are a good investment, the report’s authors point out. “The US EPA has estimated that its regulations to clean up the diesel truck fleet will reap $17 dollars in benefits to the American public for every dollar of investment,” said ICCT program lead Cristiano Façanha.
 “In China, where national officials are working to avoid the next ‘airpocalypse,’ vehicle emission controls could reap $150 billion in public health benefits at an even lower cost than programs in the United States. Experience shows these investments in public health consistently return a profit to society.”

The Impact of Stringent Fuel and Vehicle Standards on Premature Mortality and Emissions is the second major report in the ICCT’s Global Transportation Roadmap Series. The first, Global Transportation Energy and Climate Roadmap, evaluated the impacts of transportation policies on global oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Download the report and related materials at

The International Council on Clean Transportation is an independent nonprofit organization founded to provide first-rate, unbiased research and technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators. The ICCT participants’ council comprises high-level civil servants, academic researchers, and independent transportation and environmental policy experts, who come together at regular intervals to collaborate as individuals on setting a global agenda for clean transportation. Founded in 2005, the ICCT maintains offices in Berlin, Brussels, China, and London, as well as in the U.S. It is funded principally by private foundations, such as the Hewlett Foundation and ClimateWorks in the United States and Stiftung Mercator in Europe, and is a non-state partner organization in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants.

Contacts: Ray Minjares, Cristiano Façanha

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