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Champions on sustainable transportation have called for the implementation of more stringent vehicle emission standards and better fuel quality especially in Southeast Asian nations to aid with the health impacts induced caused by exposure to transport activities and air pollution.

"There's already growing scientific evidence of health impacts on air pollution including adverse birth outcomes, impairment of cognitive functions in adults, and diabetes and what this means for the transport sector", said Kathleen Dematera-Contreras, Sustainable Transport Lead at Clean Air Asia. 

According to Francisco Posada of the International Council on Clean Transportation, "most polluted cities are in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand where the air contains PM2.5  is above the standards of the World Health Organization".  

PM2.5 -- also known as ambient fine particle air pollution -- is emitted from gasoline-fueled vehicles, coal-burning power plants, industrial activities, and waste burning. Exposure to high concentrations of PM2.5 is detrimental to health, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases over time. 

Posada's presentation also echoed the overall benefit of applying more stringent vehicle emission standards as it "is more cost-effective than treating human health and it reduces overall fleet emissions and older vehicles would be eventually replaced with cleaner and newer vehicles." 

However, there are still challenges in progressing clean fuels and vehicle standards in Asia, including several countries lagging in adapting to low-sulfur fuels. Other challenges include the continued use of inefficient vehicles due to poor maintenance and enforcement and reducing other metal additives in fuels. 

The event, entitled "Supporting the Asia Pacific towards more stringent vehicle emission standards and equivalent fuel quality specifications" was the third in a webinar series supported by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), the FIA Foundation, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the European Commission.  

GFEI and UNEP have been supporting several Asia Pacific and African countries through cooperation with partners like Clean Air Asia to improve fuel economy and strengthen clean fuels and vehicle policies around the world.  

“The event aims to accelerate the development of more stringent vehicle emission standards and fuel quality specifications through sharing of experiences from different representatives and experts to help Asian countries find suitable options that are very much needed today", Glynda Bathan-Baterina, Deputy Executive Director at Clean Air Asia, said in her welcome remarks.  

Challenges in Asia and experiences from other countries 

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of air pollutants in Asia.  

Clarence Woo of the Asian Clean Fuels Association shared studies done by the IEA and OPEC that indicate Asian countries would still likely be using fossil fuels in the coming 20 years. Woo argued that issues surrounding the continued use of conventional fuels should not be neglected and improvements in quality must be addressed. Adapting Euro IV specifications in all Asian countries and the use of higher-octane gasoline would be a good start, as it has positive impacts on fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions.  

Many developing countries are still working on adapting cleaner fuels because "countries without refineries find it difficult to reduce sulfur content in fuels", said Lucky Nurafiatin of SGS Inspire. 

The latter portion of the event devoted time to sharing experiences in implementing emission standards and fuel quality specifications in Africa and India.  

Amos Mwangi of UNEP spoke on the current situation of the aging vehicle fleet in Africa, and how only 2 countries have adopted Euro 4 emission standards. Mwangi also underlined how sub-regional efforts can champion movements towards low sulfur fuel by "looking at similar countries and using these similarities to harmonize the standards."  

Public campaigns and collaboration with key stakeholders to push for change were identified as key in implementing emission standards and fuel quality specifications in India. For them, "the discourse focused on polluted air and how it affects public health as it is uniform across the country," said Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director in Research and Advocacy, Center for Science and Environment in India. Aside from pollution, assessments were also used to establish how much people are exposed to when travelling on different modes of transport. For her, "understanding the context is critical to making important decisions."  

Clean Air Asia is a regional partner of the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) in Asia. As part of their regional work in the ASEAN region, Clean Air Asia is continuing their Supporting the Asia Pacific webinar series that tackles energy efficiency policies including electric mobility in Southeast Asia.