Gareth Hughes

Vehicle emissions standards will save lives

by Gareth Hughes

In general, my views on transport funding and policy are pretty diametrically opposed to the Minister’s.

That’s why it nice to see the Minister of Transport is championing at least one cause we can agree on. He has remained resolute in his determination to improve vehicle emissions standards for used cars entering NZ, despite heavy pressure from the used car industry.

Improving vehicle emissions is a cause that the Greens have been championing for a long time. We were instrumental in bringing in the first vehicle emissions screening programme in NZ in 2006.

This helped to clean up our vehicle fleet by making it possible for cars to fail their WOF due to excessive emissions. The emissions standards for imported vehicles that were introduced in 2003 have also contributed to a progressively cleaner car fleet for New Zealand.

The used car industry are saying that the next increase in emissions standards, which will be introduced in January, 2012, will severely damage their businesses. But a Ministry of Transport report (not online, unfortunately) has found little evidence this is so.

They say that in some cases the new standards may encourage New Zealanders to buy smaller cars. While some New Zealanders genuinely need big cars a lot of urban dwellers don’t.

It’s worth remembering, also, why we need emissions standards. The latest report on air pollution to Auckland Council showed that roughly 730 Aucklanders die prematurely of air pollution every year.

Transport is responsible for 37% of that air pollution or about 270 deaths a year. Air pollution also has other costs, such as exacerbating many pre-existing conditions like asthma. It causes people to take many more sick days off work than they would otherwise need to.

The overall cost to the health sector of air pollution, just in Auckland, is estimated to be $730 million/year.

Such startling statistics show that the Minister is right not to delay the introduction of higher emissions standards for used car imports.  The cost to our health of dirty air is too great.

However, it’s worth noting that the council report also states that improving vehicle emissions is not enough. Ultimately, to improve air quality in our cities, we need to see a decrease in vehicle kilometres travelled per person on our roads.

I think one of the best ways to lower air pollution from transport is to have more compact urban growth in our cities and to invest in giving Kiwis more choice to make trips by train, bus, bike or on foot. What do you think?

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Tue, September 6th, 2011   

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