CIEL: Netherlands and Belgium violate International Law by allowing the export of dirty petrol and Diesel

▪ CIEL: Netherlands and Belgium violate International Law by allowing the export of dirty petrol and Diesel

A new legal analysis by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), commissioned by the Swiss Public Eye and Friends of the Earth Netherlands – Milieudefensie, finds that Netherlands and Belgium are in breach of the Basel Convention, international customary law, and human rights obligations by allowing the export of high-sulphur fuel to West African countries from their territories.

In September, a study conducted by Public Eye found that these polluted and toxic fuels were being produced at a large scale in the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam for export to African markets. As much as a quarter of the petrol and Diesel on the market in West Africa comes from the ports of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Antwerp. These fuels contain up to 400 times the amount of sulphur and other pollutants such as cancer-causing benzene as is authorized in Europe.

The organizations call on parliament to quickly intervene and ensure that both countries uphold the law to protect millions of Africans from exposure to toxic fuels.

Two international treaties play a role in the protection of African countries against these dangerous practices: the Bamako Convention, which specifically bans the import of hazardous waste (defined broadly to include “all substances banned for health or environmental reasons in the country of manufacture”) into Africa and the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste (as they are defined in the importing countries).

Most West African countries are parties to the Bamako Convention, and the Netherlands, Belgium, and West African countries are all parties to the Basel Convention.

The dirty fuels exported from Belgium and the Netherlands are banned within both countries for health and environmental reasons, and they are therefore considered hazardous waste by parties to the Bamako Convention, which makes their export strictly forbidden by the Basel Convention.

“Our legal analysis demonstrates without a doubt that in authorizing these exports from their territories, the Netherlands and Belgium are in breach of their international obligations under the Basel Convention, customary law, and human rights law,” says David Azoulay, Director of the Environmental Health Program at CIEL. “They have a legal obligation to completely and immediately ban all exports of these high-sulphur fuels and end this illegal and dangerous trade.”

Following the publicity around the study in September, the Amsterdam city council passed a motion to prohibit the export of dirty diesel from the port of Amsterdam. Minister Ploumen (Foreign Trade and Development) called these “Dirty Diesel” exports “a scandal;” however, she indicated that authorities lacked the legal arguments to ban such exports. CIEL, Friends of the Earth, and Public Eye now call on the Minister to take immediate action to prohibit these dirty exports using the legal arguments identified in CIEL’s legal opinion.

▪ Beijing Imposes weekday ban on older cars

Beijing announced a weekday ban on older, heavily polluting passenger cars from driving within about a 10-mile radius of the city centre. The ban was announced February 14 as the city warned that children and the elderly should remain indoors because of unhealthy levels of air pollution in the capital. It is to take effect immediately.

The ban applies to gasoline-powered light vehicles—primarily passenger cars—that fail to meet China III national vehicle emissions standards, which were implemented for vehicles sold in Beijing in 2006, and nationwide in 2008.

Some 5.7 million cars and trucks now travel daily in Beijing, accounting for about a third of the fine particulate matter pollution (PM-2.5) considered so dangerous to human health. While restrictions already in place have limited the number of vehicles that do not meet China III emissions standards to around 10 percent of the cars on Beijing's roads, those vehicles contribute more than 30 percent of nitrogen oxide and 25 percent of volatile organic compound pollution from vehicles in the capital, the government said.

Violators who drive within the Fifth Ring Road—roughly 10 miles from the heart of the city—face a fine of 100 yuan ($14.55) for every four hours their vehicle stays within the ban area, the city said.

▪ ICCT denotes cities as the leaders against Diesel

On 16 May 2017, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) published an analysis showing a receding share of newly registered diesel-fuelled vehicles. Furthermore, according to ICCT, the primary driver of this trend is public policy in Europe’s cities, coupled with the sway in public opinion following the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal.

According to the report, in the four biggest markets for diesel cars (Germany, UK, Spain, and France), the share of diesel-fuelled vehicles has been decreasing since the breakout of the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal. In the four countries, the biggest decline of diesel-fuelled vehicles was recorded in cities, which, through various initiatives. Targeting diesel-fuelled vehicles is particularly driven by the concerns over excessive NOx emissions. The report also states that more and more cities, such as Paris, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Stockholm, and Athens, are gradually moving towards reducing the share of diesel vehicles in urban areas to 0% within the next few years.

European governments have strong incentives to discourage diesel technology. In February 2017, the European Commission issued a final warning to five member states–the four listed above plus Italy–for failing to meet ambient air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide. National governments could face fines for these transgressions, which could in turn trickle down to cities. As a result, cities in these countries are now moving fast to phase out diesel vehicles, which account for 80% of all nitrogen oxide emissions from vehicles in Europe.

Meanwhile, a study of the latest diesel cars by the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) says real-world emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are, on average, seven times higher than safety limits allow. A separate ICCT study showed that latest diesel cars produce 10 times the NOx of heavy trucks or buses, which are more strictly regulated than cars.

While national governments wring their hands, it is cities that are taking the lead. In Germany, Berlin has already banned the oldest, highest-polluting diesel cars from its centre, while Munich is developing a clean air ban that will bring in some form of diesel ban in 2018. The Spanish capital, Madrid, has now introduced a system to halve the number of cars on the roads during smog outbreaks, based on odd or even number plates on alternate days; various other cities have experimented with similar trials.

In January, Oslo city council introduced a ban on diesel cars for the first time, halting their use completely for one day (during a high pollution alert). The city also plans to raise the road toll for diesel cars entering the city centre from 33 Krone (£3) to 58 Krone (£5.50) in rush hour. Stockholm is considering introducing low emission zones that would only allow electric cars or modern (gasoline Euro 5 and Diesel Euro 6) cars to enter the city centre.

Although nearly three-quarters of all the world’s Diesel cars are driven on European roads, bold moves are being made elsewhere, too. Hong Kong has introduced subsidies to help phase out older Diesel vehicles. Later this year Seoul will ban all Diesels made before 2006 from a city-centre low emission zone.

But it is in Mexico City, where mountains surrounding the metropolis help trap a semi-permanent blanket of smog over the city, that mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera has decided to ban Diesel completely by 2025.

▪ Germany likely to miss electric cars target

On 16 May 2017, Automotive News, a news portal, reported that the German chancellor Angela Merkel made a statement about the slow-down in the deployment of electric vehicles, resulting in Germany likely missing its 2020 target. Initially, Germany was expecting to have 1 million electric vehicles on roads by 2020, but according to the German chancellor, the slow pace of technological progress will not allow for the target to be met.

The statement indicates that the technological progress in terms of the development new electro-mobility solutions has slowed down. Furthermore, the expected technological breakthrough that would rapidly accelerate the uptake of electro-mobility has also not happened yet. Such development exposes the issues underlying the deployment of electro-mobility.

▪ Chinese air pollution linked to respiratory and cardiovascular deaths

In the largest epidemiological study conducted in the developing world, researchers found that as exposures to fine particulate air pollution in 272 Chinese cities increase, so do deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The researchers reported their results in "Fine Particulate Air Pollution and Daily Mortality: A Nationwide Analysis in 272 Chinese Cities," published online ahead of print in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

"Fine particulate [PM2.5] air pollution is one of the key public health concerns in developing countries including China, but the epidemiological evidence about its health effects is scarce," said senior study author Maigeng Zhou, PhD, deputy director of the National Center for Chronic and Non-communicable Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "A new monitoring network allowed us to conduct a nationwide study to evaluate short-term associations between PM2.5 and daily cause-specific mortality in China."

The researchers found:

  • The average annual exposure to PM2.5 in the Chinese cities was 56 micrograms per cubic meter -- well above the World Health Organization air quality guidelines of 10 ?g/m3.
  • Each 10 μg/m3 increase in air pollution was associated with a 0.22 percent increase in mortality from all non-accident related causes.
  • Each 10 μg/m3 increase in air pollution was associated with a 0.29 percent increase in all respiratory mortality and a 0.38 percent increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) mortality.
  • Mortality was significantly higher among people age 75 and older and among people with lower levels of education.
  • The association between PM2.5 levels and mortality was stronger in cities with higher average annual temperatures.

The researchers speculate that differences in educational attainment may result in environmental health inequalities and access to health care that affect mortality. In warmer cities, the authors hypothesize residents may spend more time outdoors and open windows, increasing their exposure to PM2.5.

The researchers said their study suggests a weaker association between increases in PM2.5 and mortality than studies conducted in Europe and North America. They suggest a number of possible explanations for this difference, including that in most Chinese cities there was a plateauing of mortality at the highest levels of pollution and the components of PM2.5 pollution in China may be less toxic than the components in Europe and North America. Crustal dust from arid lands and construction make up more PM2.5 pollution in China than it does in Europe and North America.

In 2013 China began introducing PM2.5 monitoring in urban areas. The current study analysed available data from 2013-15. For nearly half the cities in the study, there was only one year of PM2.5 data available, and the authors note that a limitation of their study is that it does not look at the cumulative effect of PM2.5 over many years.

"Our findings may be helpful to formulate public health policies and ambient air quality standards in developing countries to reduce the disease burden associated with PM2.5 air pollution," said study co-author Haidong Kan, MD, professor of public health at Fudan University in China.

"Further massive investigations, especially looking at the long-term effect studies, are needed to confirm our results and to identify the most toxic components of PM2.5 in China."

▪ Air pollution from vehicles top concern of Vietnam city authorities

The Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Transport Department has reported that pollution caused by transport activities has become alarming. There are more than 8 million vehicles in HCMC, including 7 million motorbikes, which produce a huge volume of emission, worsening air pollution and harming people’s health. The figure is 6 million in Hanoi.

Bui Xuan Cuong, director of the HCMC Transport Department, at a working session with the HCMC leaders, reported that the environment monitoring indexes in the second quarter of 2016 were higher than that of the same period of 2015.

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