Britain exporting polluting used cars to poorer countries, study warns

Britain is exporting dirtier second-hand cars to poorer countries than it sends to the scrapyard, a study has warned.

Researchers from the University of Oxford found that legally exported used cars had 53% higher emissions per kilometre of nitrogen oxides – key health-harming air pollutants – than those that were scrapped instead.

It also warned that exported used cars generated at least 13% more carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main greenhouse gas fuelling rising temperatures and climate change – per kilometre than vehicles scrapped during the study period.

Second-hand cars shipped abroad – the overwhelming majority of which go to low- and middle-income countries – also generated 17% more CO2 than used cars, classed as those which had at least one previous MOT test, being driven in Britain.

Almost all exported diesel cars (98%) failed Euro-6 diesel emissions standards for nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, and 83% were predicted to fail standards for carbon dioxide emissions, the study found.

Exported second-hand cars are destined for low- and middle-income countries, many of which have no vehicle emissions standards and suffer more deaths from air pollution.

They also stand to suffer the worst consequences of climate change, the study warned.

The researchers said their assessment probably underestimated vehicle pollution rates as they relied on new car testing data and both emissions and fuel efficiency fall as vehicles age.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, used information including MOT tests, emissions data and scrappage and export certification for British vehicles.

The UK, US, European Union and Japan collectively supply 90% of used vehicles to lower-middle-income countries and all of them maintain high vehicle emissions standards at home.

Lead author Dr Saul Newman said: “Our study reveals that the UK, a leading global exporter of used vehicles with high vehicle emissions standards inside its own borders, offshores vehicle emissions to lower-income countries who are already suffering the most from climate change.

“This study shows that we have been exporting dirtier cars than those we send to the scrapyard.

“This presents an enormous opportunity to clean up emissions in lower-income countries, simply by applying our own domestic emission standards to vehicles sent offshore.”

The study calls for UK emissions standards to be applied to all exported vehicles, so cleaner instead of dirtier vehicles are sent to lower-income countries.

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