Rich Nations Have Sold 14 Million “Dirty and Dangerous” Vehicles to Developing Nations

Image: Skitterpro

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

A new report from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) found that rich nations, including the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands, are exporting “dirty and dangerous” cars to developing countries en masse.

Why This Matters: There are about 1.4 billion cars on the roads across the globe, and that number is expected to reach 2 billion by 2040. A majority of that growth is happening in developing countries, many of whom have weak standards for vehicles if any. 

Half of the 14 million cars exported landed in Africa, where 30 countries don’t have any limit on the age of imported cars. These older cars don’t meet the Euro 4 emissions standard, and experts say that means they produce up to 90% more emissions than cars sold legally in the EU. These emissions contribute to climate change and harm air quality. 

Developing nations have been hit hardest by climate change already, enduring flooding, famine, and more, despite 92% of excess emissions being produced by the Global North. This global power imbalance is in full swing in the African and Asian car markets, where developed nations have pawned off not only their obsolete vehicles but also their pollution.

Sold in Bad Faith: Many of the vehicles sold have been tampered with before export to remove important and valuable parts for sale elsewhere. Rob de Jong, a co-author of the report, described the gutting of exported vehicles, “They cut out catalytic converters, because the platinum value is worth $500. And they put in a piece of steel pipe and weld it back in,” he said. “They have illegally removed the airbags, because they have a value in Europe, they have illegally removed the anti-lock brake system because it has a value and is being sold on the black market.” De Jong and his colleagues believe that the sale of these cars is responsible for increased levels of road accidents in many poorer Asian and African nations. 


Higher Standards: Fifty-four percent of the substandard vehicles exported came from Europe, many from the Netherlands. Stientje van Veldhoven, the Netherlands minister for the environment has called for a coordinated approach from European leadership and cooperation with African nations to “ensure that the EU only exports vehicles that are fit for purpose, and compliant with standards set by importing countries.” 

  • Many of the developing nations that imported the vehicles have created new standards in response to the dangers presented by the imports.
  •  Kenya and Morocco updated age limits on imported cars to 8 and 5 years respectively, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which represents 15 African nations, has created new emissions standards that will go into effect in 2021.


De Jong believes that only action across the supply chain can solve the issue and prevent disaster, 

On one hand, I think it’s unethical that these developed countries export vehicles that are not roadworthy on their own roads,” he said. “On the other hand, why have the importing countries been waiting so long to put in place some minimum standards? So I think the onus is not only on the exporting country, it’s really a joint responsibility.”

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