14 September 2017

Nigeria: Phase-Out of Petrol Cars - Matters Arising

opinion

Few weeks ago, Britain announced 2040 as its target date for phasing out internal combustion engine cars from its shores and the switch to electric cars.

An internal combustion engine (ICE) is one in which combustion is intermittent, such as in four-stroke and six-stroke piston engines. Typically, an internal combustion engine is operated with fossil fuels like natural gas or petroleum products including gasoline, diesel fuel or fuel oil. The modern ICE was invented in 1876 by a German, Nikolaus Otto. Globally, over 85 per cent of cars and other vehicles in existence use ICE.

Britain is only one of the many countries of Europe, America and Asia that have set target dates for phasing out cars equipped with ICE. Respectively, The Netherlands and Germany had set 2025 and 2030 as phase-out target dates for such vehicles. By 2040, the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles would end in France, its government has announced. India is targeting 2030 to have electric cars only in the country. While Norway has not set a date to completely phase out ICE cars, it has proposed that by 2025, only hybrid cars (equipped with both ICE and electric motor) would be allowed in the country.

Not only countries, some automobile manufacturers have also announced target dates to stop the production of ICE cars. One of such car producers is Volvo, which had announced that by 2019 it would be making electric and hybrid cars only. There is no doubt that many other countries and car manufacturers in the developed countries would soon follow the examples of the above-mentioned countries and companies.

The plans to phase out ICE cars are driven by the need to reduce the impact on the environment of cars and vehicles that are equipped with ICE which includes greenhouse gases and hazardous substance emissions, in line with the Paris Declaration on Electro-mobility and Climate Change & Call to Action. According to the document produced in 2015, "transport contributes almost one-quarter (23 per cent) of the current global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is growing faster than any other energy end-use sector." The document went on to state that "GHG emissions from transport are anticipated to rise from today's levels by nearly 20 per cent by 2030 and close to 50 per cent by year 2050 unless major action is undertaken."

The proposed phasing out of ICE cars by major European, American and Asian countries is one that would surely impact on oil exporting countries such as Nigeria in one form or the other. This is because fuel consumed by automobiles account for a significant volume of petroleum sold in the global market. If they are taken out, that would further deepen the glut in the global oil market with terrible impact on price of oil, employment and socio-political stability. Nigeria would be worse hit because of its near total reliance crude oil. But this angle of the impact is not the focus of this article.

For Nigeria in particular, the impact goes beyond the sale / price of crude oil. There is the potential ecological / environmental impact the country may suffer unless measures are proactively taken to avert it. Nigeria is a huge importer of used cars from Europe and America. The National Automotive Council (NAC) in 2013 put the average number of used cars imported into Nigeria at 150,000, at an average annual spend of N600 billion. These are conservative figures. Nigeria being a consumption- and import-dependent country, it does not require a prophet to predict that the phasing out of ICE cars in Europe and America would create a boom in the used car business in Nigeria. Certainly Nigerian businessmen would not miss this opportunity to make good business by flooding the country with the cars being discarded in Europe and America. The country can thus become the dumping ground for these used cars. The consequence on our environment can best be imagined.

It is no gain-saying that our environment is already highly polluted. As at December 2016, Nigeria was ranked the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change, according to Maplesoft Climate Change Vulnerability Index. Emission of hazardous substances and greenhouse gases by vehicles and generators are contributory to this. One writer aptly describes it this way: 'Nigerians are gasping in the fumes of generators and vehicles.' The problem is set to be compounded with importation of more used cars. If these vehicles cannot be stopped from entering the country, the problem of how to handle the vehicles when they have reached their end of life would also arise.

The questions then are: how are Nigeria's policy makers responding or going to respond to the ICE development taking place in Europe and other parts of the developed world? What policies can be put in place proactively to ensure Nigeria does not become the dumping ground for the discarded cars? Should this happen, what measures can be put in place to ensure appropriate disposal of cars and vehicles when they would have reached their end-of-life without constituting an environmental nuisance?

In answer to the above posers, first, I recommend that government policy makers begin now to look at enacting new or updating existing legislations on emissions from vehicles and combustion engines generally as exists in developed countries. In our own case, the legislations should be broad enough to cover cars and vehicles already in the country and those that are going to be imported into the country. The legislations also should be based on high global best practice standards rather than on minimum standards. This is necessary because all through their life span, from manufacturing to end-of-life, cars and vehicles impact on the environment.

Second, government can encourage small scale enterprises to go into recycling business. The absence of such businesses is the reason we see vehicles that have outlived their usefulness dotting the landscape here and there. Oftentimes, owners of end-of-life cars simply abandon them in public places.

Under good policies, components of cars that have reached their end-of-life can be converted to other use. In most countries of Europe, only about 5 per cent of a car's components are put into landfills. The rest are recycled.

Third, to forestall these cars ending up in Nigeria, our policy makers can also persuade the UK, the EU and other developed countries to recycle the cars they are removing from their systems over there instead of selling them to developing countries like Nigeria. This can be a far-fetched step given that many of the countries and car manufacturers may want to earn additional revenues from sale of the used cars and to also avoid the additional cost of recycling. Nevertheless, the government can appeal to their sense of social responsibility, they being signatories to the Paris Declaration on Electro-mobility and Climate Change & Call to Action.

Fourth, the government should pursue with vigour the development of rail transportation in the country. What we need now is not flooding the country with more cars, especially used ones, which would further compound the traffic chaos on our roads. A planned system of mass transit that would free up the roads and that can contribute to the longevity of our roads is more desirable. When most parts of the country are connected by modern rail system, the appetite for ownership of cars might begin to wane. I believe this is the letter and spirit of the Paris Declaration on Electro-mobility and Climate Change which encourages countries to go in 'pursuit of global rail transport electrification, ... (while ensuring) at least 20 per cent of all road transport vehicles globally to be electrically driven by 2030.'

As a signatory to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (otherwise called the Paris Agreement), a broad-based global call to action on the environment, Nigeria should key into the emerging developments on ICE and roll out the necessary policies to be in compliance. Granted that our level of technological development is still too rudimentary to set a target date for phasing out ICE vehicles from the country and adopting cars only, we can at the least control the influx of such vehicles into the country for some of the reasons stated above.

Onuoha is the managing director of the J3 Consulting Limited, Lagos.

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