Skip to content
Thomson Reuters
Climate & Energy

Carbon emissions goals at risk as ‘clunker’ cars flood Africa, South Asia

Nita Bhalla

24 Jul 2018

By Nita Bhalla (Thomson Reuters Foundation) | 24 July 2018

Old, ill-maintained and often malfunctioning vehicles become energy guzzlers and emit high levels of heat-trapping gases


NAIROBI – African and South Asian nations could miss national targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions unless rich countries stop using them as dumping grounds for millions of polluting old cars, a study has warned.

The report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said the United States, Japan and European Union countries had for years been exporting old, used cars – or clunkers – to nations such as Nigeria and Bangladesh.

The second-hand vehicles, which should have been scrapped under domestic regulations, are instead being used by poorer nations where they are contributing to carbon emissions, said CSE, a New Delhi-based think-tank.

Weak environmental regulations in poorer economies and stronger emissions regulations in exporting countries are among the factors “inciting this unregulated global trade in clunkers,” said Anumita Roychowdhury of CSE on Monday.

“If this continues unchecked, without the exporting countries sharing the responsibility of addressing this problem, the poorer countries will not be able to meet their clean air and climate mitigation goals,” she said during a press conference on Facebook Live.

There are around two billion vehicles globally, of which 2 percent – or 40 million – are deemed unworthy for road use in developed nations annually, according to the report.

Many of them end up in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia. Ninety percent of Nigeria’s 3.5 million cars are imported second-hand vehicles, according to data from the management consultancy firm Deloitte.

These old, ill-maintained and often malfunctioning vehicles become energy guzzlers and emit high levels of heat-trapping gases, said the CSE.

Even though the level of emissions in less developed nations is lower than the world average, clunkers are a rapidly rising source of pollution, added the report.

If left uncontrolled, clunkers could jeopardise climate goals set by poorer nations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international pact to slow down global warming. The cars are also contributing to high levels of air pollution in cities like Dhaka and Lagos, increasing the risk of lung diseases, respiratory illnesses and cancer, it added.

Car manufacturers should be responsible for taking back the vehicles, recycling or disposing of them, while authorities in higher-income countries should put in place export regulations.

Strong exit rules are needed to verify, inspect, certify and codify vehicles before export, and all vehicles with compromised emissions and safety features need to be barred from export, the study said.

Many lower-income nations are taking steps to control the sector – from reducing their dependency on used car imports by promoting their own automobile manufacturing sector to raising import duties on big, fuel-guzzling vehicles.

But experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said many lower-income countries still lacked a comprehensive set of policies to keep a check on imported clunkers.

“Our observation is that countries that lack policies and incentives to attract cleaner vehicles are importing inefficient vehicles that emit greenhouse gases above the global averages,” said Jane Akumu from UNEP’s Air Quality and Mobility Unit.


(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Jared Ferrie and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Rwanda signs $400 million deal to produce methane gas from ‘Killer Lake Release: Refinitiv Commits to Climate Change Action; Pledges Support for UN Sustainable Development Goals Exxon Mobil opposes weakening Obama-era emissions rules: letter to EPA U.N. talks leader sees greener future for coal-dependent Poland EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Building a future in tomorrow’s green economy EU’s climate chief calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Playing with matches Shrinking Swiss glacier gets a climate-change postcard EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Is it too late to address climate change? No, but the risk is exploding. Ocean Shock: Inside Maine’s great lobster rush