From: Michael Casey, Associated Press
Published December 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Asian Boom Undercuts Pollution Cleanup

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia -- Asia's economic boom has caused a surge in car and motorcycle sales, undercutting efforts to promote public transport in the region and clean up its dirty skies, delegates told a pollution conference Thursday.


While some Asian governments were praised for toughening vehicle emission standards, and most have phased out leaded gasoline, many of the region's big cities are doing little to enforce laws or establish effective bus and train networks, they said.


"Transport is growing faster in most cities so transport emissions are a big part of the problem," Lew Fulton, a transport expert with the U.N. Environmental Program, told the three-day Better Air Quality Conference 2006 in Yogyakarta.


The meeting _ one of the biggest air quality conferences in the region _ comes at a time when Asia has begun to address the bad air that has resulted from double-digit economic growth rates, especially in India and China. Soot from coal-fired power plants, greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and haze caused by slash-and-burn land clearing activities have all helped turn the region into the world's most polluted.


The World Health Organization said increased pollution in Asia is estimated to be causing as many as 537,000 premature deaths each year, as well as a rise in cardiopulmonary and respiratory illnesses. It is also having economic ramifications, with China saying it is cutting into its growth and Hong Kong fearing its foul air is scaring off investors.


Transport is taking center stage mostly because it is growing so fast, conference delegates said, causing massive traffic jams in many cities and contributing as much as 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the next 20 to 30 years.


"The speed of motorization is so fast in Asia. For example, vehicle fleets double in about five years in an average Asian country," said Cornie Huizenga, head of the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities which helped organize the three-day conference, attended by 900 government officials, researchers and activists.


The number of vehicles in China could grow by as much as 15 times in the next 30 years to more than 190 million, according to a study released Thursday by the Asian Development Bank, while the growth could be up to 13 times in India.


Correspondingly, carbon dioxide emissions from on-road transport can be expected to rise by 3.4 times in China and 5.8 times in India in the same period, the report said.


In less-developed countries such as Vietnam or Indonesia, the problem is motorbikes. Hanoi has gone from almost no motorcycles 10 years ago to 1.5 million today, according to the Swiss Vietnamese Clean Air Project. Indonesia's fleet has doubled in the past five years to 33 million, according to the government, dwarfing car ownership, which has also doubled to around 7.4 million.


With no sign of vehicle growth slowing, delegates called on governments to boost fuel efficiency standards. They also called for more spending on public transport projects such as bus ways in Indonesia or newly designed roadways to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians that are being considered in India.


More importantly, many experts said governments need to establish programs to test and enforce vehicle emission standards, limit the import of secondhand vehicles and consider taxes that would make new vehicles more expensive.


"There are a lot of laws that have been passed to improve the environmental conditions of cities but they need to be backed up by enforcement to ensure the desired effects are developed," said Jamie Leather, an ADB transport expert.


Indonesia reflects the challenges many countries are facing. They have enacted emission standards but have no system for emission testing. As a result, spot checks found that only 60 percent of gasoline powered and 10 percent of diesel powered cars met the standards, the government said.


"If we enforce the regulations, all these cars will have be garaged," said Ridwan Tamin, an assistant deputy for mobile source emissions for the Ministry of Environment. "So we have a social issue, you see. This gives you an idea of how much we have to do to curb this situation."


Source: Associated Press


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