Auto industry misleading us, says CSE; vehicles remain a major source of air pollution

May 05, 2016

CSE challenges the misleading number game of the industry to underplay vehicular pollution

Says even after stepping up action on all sources, there cannot be any cop-out for cars, especially diesel cars 

Lays out the impact of current action and charts the way forward to meet clean air targets

  • Beginning of second phase of action has started to arrest air pollution in Delhi. Supreme Court directives on trucks and cars, garbage, diesel cars, and construction dust, among others have shown results. But pollution levels are still very high. Do a lot more to sustain the gains. 

  • Action cannot be derailed with misinformation. While stringent action is needed on all pollution sources, auto industry cannot slow down action on vehicles with claims that vehicular pollution is insignificant. Vehicles are the most consistent source of pollution throughout the year unlike most others that are more variable. Vehicular fume is highly toxic. 

  • Other governments with nearly similar share of vehicular pollution have taken much harsher action on vehicles especially cars than Delhi. 

  • Auto industry is silent on the explosive emissions test results in Europe that show diesel cars even after meeting Euro V and Euro VI norms are emitting several times more than official limit when on road. Cities are failing to meet clean air targets.  

  • CSE warns that action that has started to show results must be encouraged and stronger action will have to be supported for clean air and good health

New Delhi, April 5, 2016: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) condemns the misleading number game and motivated campaign of the auto industry to claim that vehicles in Delhi are an insignificant source of pollution and should be left alone. While presenting the impact of the second phase of action and the way forward in the Capital today CSE has underscored that while new action has started to results, this cannot be derailed. The city has to step up action on all key sources of pollution including vehicles to meet clean air target throughout the year. 

It is ironical that now when action has started to show results to curb the killer air pollution in the city detractors are out to derail the process. Instead of ensuring that the action builds up momentum quickly, motivated campaigns have been launched to subvert the process. CSE has reviewed the status and direction of action and identified areas where stronger action is needed. This only reconfirms that while action on all key sources should be stepped up, vehicles including diesel vehicles will require stringent action as they emit the deadliest toxins within our breathing zone. 

What has CSE analysis shown? 
Second generation action initiated last year has started to deliver 

Definite bend in pollution curve but still very high: Analysis of real time data of Delhi Pollution Control Committee shows consistent slowing down of peaking of pollution in response to action initiated since last year. Environment compensation charge and entry restriction on trucks, push for enforcement on waste burning and dust sources, limited application of odd and even scheme have prevented the pollution from getting worse this winter. Specific action on trucks that has nearly halved truck numbers has lowered night time pollution too. Since this winter air pollution trend show a definite downward trend influenced by action. The previous winter shows more erratic and highly variable trend influenced by weather conditions. This year despite the variability in weather conditions there is consistent lowering of pollution peaks. This trend will have to be sustained and improved with more strategies. Other key strategies already on table are public transport, power plant pollution among others. Air quality analysis by SAFAR also shows PM2.5 and ozone levels this summer are lower than the last summer.  

Night time pollution is lower as truck numbers are nearly halved: There is clear evidence that with reduction in truck numbers night pollution levels have also been lowered compared to previous year. This shows up consistently after the implementation of doubling of environment compensation charge and banning of pre-2006 trucks. 

Odd and even as an emergency measure has prevented the pollution from getting worse: The first experiment with an emergency measure of odd and even scheme in two phases have shown that cutting down vehicle numbers can reduce exposure to toxic pollution and prevents the peaks from getting worse. But emergency action will have to be implemented with permanent measures for sustained gains. 

These changes only indicate that while action has started to make an impact more strident steps are needed to bend the pollution curve and ensure clean air targets are met throughout the year. 

Vehicles are a special problem: Why industry numbers do not add up? 

Auto industry has resorted to a number game and taken a reductionist view of IIT Kanpur’s emissions inventory estimates to claim that if vehicles contribute 20% of PM2.5 and cars are 10% of it, then it works out to 2-3% of PM2.5 from all sources. That share of diesel car is even smaller. Therefore, they claim that the contribution of cars to particulate load is so small that they do not merit any action. 

Industry fails to convey:

Cars emit more PM2.5 than several other key pollution sources in Delhi: If cars are estimated to emit 2-3% and diesel cars 1.6% of PM2.5 from all sources then cars according to IIT Kanpur report emit equal or more than what solid waste burning (3%), hotel and resturaunts (3%), industrial area (2%), C&D waste (2%) and diesel generator sets (2%) emit individually. 

Cars emit more NOx than several other key pollution sources in Delhi: Vehicles at 36% are the second largest contributor to NOx. Only cars emit 6.1% of the total NOx from all sources. This is equal to the third largest contributor of NOx which is diesel generator sets at 6%. The rest including domestic sources (2%), industrial areas (1%), hotels and resturaunts (less than 1%), and medical incinerators (less than 1%), emit significantly less than cars. This clearly brings out that Delhi cannot meet its clean air objective if stringent action is not taken on cars. 

Industry has not accounted for the vehicles contributing to secondary particulates that are quarter of PM2.5 in Delhi’s air: Secondary particulate are formed from the gases - NOX and SO2 that come from vehicles and industry. NOx form nitrate particles and SO2 form sulphate particles and add to the PM2.5 burden. If contribution of vehicles to the secondary particle is accounted for the contribution of vehicles to PM2.5 will be much higher. Thus, to control this 25% of PM2.5 in Delhi’s air stringent control are needed on sources of NOx and SO2. This has serious implication for vehicles. 

Kanpur IIT study states that vehicles are the most consistent source of pollution throughout the year while most others are variable – control on consistent sources are important to achieve cleaner air throughout the year: The IIK Kanpur study states -- The two most consistent sources for PM10 and PM2.5 in both the seasons are secondary particles and vehicles. The other sources on average may contribute more (or less) but their contributions are variable from one day to another. Consistent presence of secondary and vehicular PM10 and PM2.5 across all sites and in two seasons, suggests these particles encompass entire Delhi region as a layer. To reduce average levels of pollution, prioritise sources that are consistent across the year. Biomass and MSW burning are important, but variable. Therefore, to get average levels down focus on the consistent sources like vehicles for good results.

Industry is underplaying the toxic and cancer effect of diesel emissions. IIT Kanpur study has established diesel cars on an average contribute 78% of PM2.5 from four wheelers. This is significantly much higher than the contribution of petrol and CNG cars. Cancer effect occurs at very small doses. According to California Air Resources Board the number of excess cancer cases per million people due to lifetime exposure to only 1 microgramme per cum of diesel particulate is 300 as against 29 for benzene that comes predominantly from petrol. The cancer potency of diesel particulate matter is 10 times more than benzene. Even after improving emission standards in California cancer risk from diesel particulate matter in Los Angeles is 68%. More studies have been published globally to show how all particulates are not equally harmful. Estimates of International Council on Clean Transportation cancer risk from diesel vehicles in Delhi are four times higher than petrol cars. More than 2,80,000 avoidable cancer deaths in Delhi are being attributed to diesel exhausts. Particulate emissions from diesel and coal combustion are more harmful than others. 

Industry claims that petrol and diesel cars are equally to be blamed. But omit to mention that emissions related to petrol cars have declined despite the increase in their numbers: Industry claims that petrol cars emit more carbon monoxide than diesel cars and therefore diesel cars cannot be treated differently. But official data clearly show that carbon monoxide emissions have reduced despite the increase in petrol car numbers. The trends have decoupled. But increase in diesel car numbers are correlated with rising NOx and PM emissions and that diesel cars are legally allowed to emit three times more NOx and several times more particulate matter than petrol cars. 

Rising diesel car numbers are negating the benefits of moving public transport and light commercial vehicles to CNG: 1 diesel car emits particulate matter equivalent to 5 petrol cars; 9 diesel cars emits equal to 1 diesel truck and 6 diesel cars emit equal to 1 diesel bus. This in other words mean that the total number of diesel cars i.c  68384 diesel cars that got registered in Delhi in 2014-15 has virtually brought back more than 3.4 lakh petrol cars, or about 7,598 trucks or about 11,397 diesel buses to pollute the air of Delhi.  

With similar share of vehicular pollution other governments are taking far more stringent action on vehicles especially cars: Other governments with similar contribution of pollution from vehicles are taking significantly stronger action on vehicles than Delhi.  In Beijing vehicles contribute 30% of PM2.5 close to what it is in Delhi. To address the 30% of the problem of which cars are a subset Beijing has capped the number of cars that can be sold in a year; banned diesel cars; introduced Euro V emissions standards, phased out more than 6 lakh old vehicles; restricted movement of more than 1.5 lakh old and polluting vehicles by labelling them yellow and slapped high and variable parking charges.  Beijing is now setting even harsher targets of limiting car numbers below 6 million cars to be able to meet the clean air standards. This is supported by scaled up public transport. There is barely any action on cars in Delhi. This demonstrates how even with the current share of vehicular pollution Delhi will need much more stringent action along with action in all other sectors. 

Industry is silent about mass failure of diesel car models in meeting real world emissions limits in Europe and the US and worsening air quality: While hard selling diesel cars industry is silent on the new emissions results from Europe and the US on diesel cars. Even after meeting Euro V and Euro VI emissions standards NOx pollution is increasing in European cities. United Kingdom was dragged to the Court for violating NOx standards. Spate of emissions testing results have come from the British, German and French authorities over the past few weeks that show how large number of popular diesel car models have failed to meet the official limit and are emitting 6 to 12 times higher than the real world. This has led several governments to come up with policies to restrict diesel cars and further tighten the emissions regulations. The expectations of lower warming gases from higher fuel efficiency has not been delivered in Europe because of greater usage of diesel cars, higher warming potential of black carbon emissions and higher life cycle emissions of heat trapping carbon dioxide emissions. 

Next steps

Action to control air pollution has started and is showing results. But this needs to gather momentum. More needs to be done. This is an important signal. This needs to be encouraged and not blocked with misinformation. Support action and not inaction.


For more on this, contact Souparno Banerjee,, 9910864339