Environmentalists usually promote reuse. But sometimes reusing does more harm than good. Such is the case with many of the used vehicles exported to poorer countries, according to a new report released by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

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According to the report, between 2015 and 2018, 14 million secondhand light-duty vehicles were exported around the world. Light duty vehicles include sedans, SUVs and minibuses. Many of these came from the U.S., Japan and Europe, and 80% wound up in low- and middle-income countries. Africa received the majority of these used vehicles.

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Unfortunately, many of these cars are poorly made or in bad shape. As they spew emissions from Addis Ababa to Dhaka, they make it even harder for economically stressed countries to mitigate climate change effects.

The answer? More regulations about exactly which cars are worthy of staying on the road, and which should drive (or be towed) straight to the junkyard. “Cleaning up the global vehicle fleet is a priority to meet global and local air quality and climate targets,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director. “The lack of effective standards and regulation is resulting in the dumping of old, polluting and unsafe vehicles. Developed countries must stop exporting vehicles that fail environment and safety inspections and are no longer considered roadworthy in their own countries, while importing countries should introduce stronger quality standards.”

The report studied 146 countries, concluding that two-thirds had weak or very weak policies about importing used vehicles. However, countries that imposed stricter regulations scored better imports. For example, because Morocco only accepts vehicles that meet European emission standards and are less than five years old, it gets some of the best used cars.

In addition to the 40% of used vehicles bound for Africa, 24% went to Eastern Europe, 15% to Asia-Pacific, 12% to the Middle East and 9% to Latin America. Vehicles are responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions globally.


Image via Shilin Wang