The cost of a brighter future? One trillion US dollars
Outdoor air pollution caused 3,7 million premature deaths in 2012, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with China bearing the largest share of that total. In 2010, some 1,2 million premature deaths could be attributed to the outdoor air quality in the country – this resulted in a loss of some 25 million healthy years, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study, published by The Lancet.
It also published that a surge in car use in South and East Asia killed 2,1 million people prematurely in 2010. The New York Times reports that “ambient particulate matter pollution” was the number four cause of death in China, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure and smoking.
According to the WHO, road transport accounted for 50 percent of the cost of the health impacts of air pollution – both death and illness – in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2010, which was close to US$1 trillion (nearly R14 trillion).
In China pollution from traffic is probably also responsible for about 50 percent of the deaths and injuries from air pollution … With the rapid growth of traffic in developing countries, the WHO notes that air pollution has outpaced the adoption of tighter vehicle emission standards.
All hope isn’t lost, however: China will spend up to US$1 trillion on electric buses over the coming 15 years, according to the analysts company IDTechEx – which has been providing independent market research, business intelligence and events on emerging technology to clients in over 80 countries.
It is hoped that this measure will reduce the costs associated with air pollution by some US$22,5 trillion (nearly R310 trillion) over that time.
Wisely, the Chinese government has banned two-stroke two-wheel vehicles, removed millions of the worst pollution-culprit cars and other vehicles from its roads, and declared that taking the electric bus or train will be a major part of the answer.
It does not see the river of 140 million electric bikes and scooters, used to get to work in China, as a primary part of that answer, however. These often flow against the direction of traffic and traverse sidewalks, causing accidents and extra congestion.
Many Chinese cities have also either banned or severely restricted e-bikes, forcing the market to ease back. The number of e-bike manufacturers has collapsed from 3 000 to under 1 000, with almost all of those losing money, unlike the rapidly increasing number of companies that are making electric buses.
Dr Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx says: “The Chinese government is right to prioritise electric buses and trains over e-bikes, which have other problems too – such as boosting the lead acid battery business, with its bad record of pollution from lead smelting, through to used bike batteries being thrown in the local stream. Control is a bit better with microEV cars and the regular electric cars tend to have lithium-ion batteries. However the buses run almost entirely on lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors, neither of which have the problems of lead.”