Specific Measures to Reduce Transport Emissions in China

Note: I wrote this paper during my time at Clean Air Asia for the EU-China Environmental Governance Program, where I made a presentation on some options for reducing air pollution from the transport sector to contribute to the background understanding of National Peoples’ Congress drafting committee for the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law.  The presentation and paper were not meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive, but just to focus on some of the issues that I’d been working on in recent years.  Please forgive any omissions.

International Seminar on China’s Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law

EU-China Environmental Governance Program

Specific Measures to Reduce Transport Emissions in China

Robert Earley, Transport Program Manager, Clean Air Asia


Controlling emissions from the transport sector is a complex policy initiative that requires the efforts and coordination of agencies at the national and local levels, as well as the cooperation of commercial operators of vehicles and vessels and even personal transportation users. Therefore, it is important to take innovative and locally-appropriate measures to reduce transport emissions.

There are four key measures for reducing emissions from transportation, recognized by experts globally:

  1. Reduce the need for transportation through better urban planning, economic coordination and transportation planning
  2. Provide cleaner fuels that enable emission reducing vehicle and vessel technologies
  3. Require technologies on vehicles and vessels that actively reduce emissions
  4. A strong inspection and maintenance system to ensure vehicles and vessels perform properly through their useful lifetimes.

Vehicles and vessels powered by diesel fuel are key to reducing air pollution from the transportation sector.  In China as well as elsewhere around the globe, diesel vehicles – particularly heavy-duty diesel vehicles – make up a minority of the vehicle population, yet when improperly addressed, are responsible for a large proportion of NOx and Particulate Matter (PM) pollution – two of the major pollutants that challenge China today.

This paper makes specific recommendations to be used as examples for policy innovation in controlling transport-related emissions:

  1. Skip Euro V-equivalent Emission and Fuel Quality Standards and Move Quickly Euro VI Equivalent Standards. Quickly implement 10ppm sulfur fuels for road transport use (gasoline and diesel) to minimize SOx, PM and NOx emissions.
  2. Identify coastal regions and key inland waterways where low sulfur marine fuels must be used so as to reduce the human health impacts of waterborne vessel emissions.
  3. Enable local governments to encourage vehicle owners to upgrade or replace their old, dirty vehicles – especially diesel vehicles. Once clean fuels are available, move quickly to incentivize owners to either purchase new vehicles meeting the highest emission standards, or install retrofit particulate filters on all possible vehicles to reduce particulate matter emissions, and if possible, selective catalytic reduction technologies to reduce the emissions of oxides of nitrogen.

Specific Measures

  1. Skip Euro V-equivalent Emission and Fuel Quality Standards and Move Quickly Euro VI Equivalent Standards

The top measure for reducing transport emissions is the implementation of emission standards for vehicles and vessels and a matching fuel quality standard which allows emission control technologies to be used on vehicles. Europe has designed and implemented the harmonized EURO track of emission standards for vehicles since 1970, and recast the standards under the DIRECTIVE 2007/46/EC, thus bringing a harmonized approach to type approval and emission control standards of new vehicles across the EU.  The most recent standard is the EURO 6 and EURO VI standards (where the Arabic number is used to denote petrol-powered vehicles and the Roman numeral is used to denote diesel-powered vehicles).

Since diesel vehicles are the primary source of NOx and PM emissions from transport, this briefing note recommends a particular focus on diesel emissions, although this is not to discount the importance of continuously improving emissions from gasoline vehicles).  The EURO VI standard, while defining emission limits for certain pollutants, contains other innovative measures to bear to ensure that the type-approval testing of vehicles is representative of real-life use, and thus to ensure that vehicles in use actually reflect the emission standards. While also noting the maximum emission limits for various pollutants from various types of vehicles, the standard also describes a requirement to ensure advanced Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) systems are operating on the vehicle to let the driver know if the emissions system has a problem; and also ensures that on an annual basis, a sample of typical “in-use” vehicles from each model are tested using a Portable Emissions Monitoring System (PEMS) to demonstrate that the emission control system is durable for the lifetime of the vehicle.  Diesel vehicle emission control systems must be durable for the times noted in Table 1.  In this way, the fleet of vehicles should eventually become completely clean as old vehicles are replaced with new vehicles.

Table 1 Durability Periods for Euro IV-V and Euro VI diesel vehicles (Source: Dieselnet.org)


The most comprehensive legal description of the fuel quality standards is the Directive 98/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 1998 relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Council Directive 93/12/EEC, which specifies the standards and testing methods for fuels.   This directive forces producers of petrol and diesel fuels to provide fuels with no more than 10 mg sulphur/kg fuel, which is the quality of fuel required to make effective and long-term use of diesel particulate filters (DPF).  It is essential that the fuel quality standard match and be in-step with the emission standards on vehicles to ensure a smooth transition through the entire automotive market.

While the long-term costs of clean diesel are negligible compared to the daily price fluctuations in the crude oil marketi, different countries have taken different fiscal approaches to encouraging the transition, as noted in Table 2.

Table 2 Fiscal strategies for advancing clean diesel production and supply (Source: ICCT, 2013) (ii)


Recommendation: Advance the production of Euro VI/6 equivalent vehicles and ultra low-sulfur fuels (<10ppm sulfur) as quickly as possible. While China does have a timeline in place, consider moving even faster to roll out cleaner vehicle and fuel standards, even skipping national roll-out of Euro V-equivalent standards.

2.  Emissions from Ports and Ocean-Going Vessels

Ports around the world are beginning to focus on requiring ocean-going vessels to burn cleaner fuels when they enter certain districts close to land, and particularly when berthing.

Ports in Asia have not yet begun to require ships to switch to cleaner fuels. However, several ports have begun to implement incentive programs as follows:

  1. Vietnam recently announced that the country would ban the use of high sulphur fuel in ships arriving and leaving its national waters by 2016. Vietnam will require fuels of no more than 0.25% sulphur to be used. (iii)
  2. Tokyo bay is currently under consideration as a Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) under the MARPOL convention of the International Maritime Organization, with the potential to require 0.1% sulphur fuel to be used within its economic zone (timeline unclear).
  3. Singapore Green Port Program – voluntary program (iv)
    1. For ocean-going ships that use approved abatement/scrubber technology or burn clean fuels (fuels with sulphur content <1% m/m):
      1. During the entire port stay of 5 days or less within the Singapore Port Limits (from the point of entry into Singapore Port Limits till the point of exit) will be granted 25% reduction in port dues; or
      2. Only while at berth will be granted 15% reduction in port dues.
    2. Ships must be registered with the program before entering the port, must make a declaration through the electronic Pre-Arrival Notification system that the ship will participate in the program, and must maintain records for 1 year.
    3. Singapore is one of the few ports in the world that provide Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) bunkering facilities for LNG ships.  LNG has no sulphur content.
  4. Busan Port (Korea) has begun offering a 15% discount on port entrance fees for ships that qualify as “green” on the Environmental Ship Index (ESI) (v). One component of the ESI rating of a ship is related to the amount of low sulphur fuel used.

In the meantime, the MARPOL convention of the International Maritime Organization notes that in emission control areas for SOx established under MARPOL Annex IV (including the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, designated coastal areas off the United States and Canada, and the United States Caribbean Sea areas near Puerto Rico and United States Virgin Islands), ships must use on board fuel oil with sulphur content of no more than 0.10% from 1 January 2015. Outside the emission control areas, the limit for sulphur in marine fuels is 3.50%, falling to 0.50% on and after 1 January, 2020 (to be reviewed by 2018). (vi) At this point in time, all major shipping routes are covered by a SECA for a portion of the trip, including US-EU, EU-Asia and US-Asia shipping routes.


figure 1 Current Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA) established under the MARPOL Treaty. (vii)

Recommendation: China, like other major economic areas, should seek to quickly establish SOx emission control areas under the MARPOL convention Annex IV so as to require ships to use low sulphur fuels near China’s coastal areas and in ports.  Furthermore, special requirements can be designed to allow for preferential treatment of ships with clean engines and practices while berthing in harbours.  This work will require planning and cooperation with refiners to ensure that appropriate fuels are available, as well as with shipping companies to ensure that alternative technologies, such as emission scrubbers are installed on ships within the zone.

3. Local Economic Levers to Encourage Fleet Upgrades and Turnover

Some of the most successful means of implementing rapid fleet turnover to achieve low emission vehicles in Europe has been through the development of low emission zones and transport corridors.  These zones and corridors, however, must be developed according to local conditions and with local subsidies in place to ensure that vehicle retrofits and replacements can be successfully undertaken. Key examples in Europe include:

  • Differential road tolls in Germany, where heavy-duty vehicles that meet Euro VI emission standards pay no extra toll fees, but where vehicles that meet lower Euro emission standards are required to pay increasing toll fees for road use (distance based). (viii) The figure below illustrates that the fleet has quickly shifted to higher vehicle emissions standards from 2007 to 2011.


figure 2 Total mileage of German and foreign trucks on German motorways with trucks over 12 tonnes, 2007-2011.

  • Low emission zone in Berlin, where the entire urban area of Berlin now requires vehicles entering the city to have catalytic converters (for petrol vehicles) and particulate filters (for diesel vehicles). Vehicles are given an environmental label according to an inspection, and vehicles found to have entered the city illegally are fined 40 Euros, along with a demerit point to the driver’s license of the car’s owner.

Recommendation: China should make use of all available economic levers to push vehicle owners and drivers to upgrade their vehicles using authorized retrofit technology, or to replace their vehicles with vehicles of the best possible emission standard.  Subsidies should be used to promote the successful implementation of the policy, and reasonable penalties (including non-economic, reputational penalties) should be in place for drivers and vehicle owners that fail to operate legally.



i. Hart Energy and MathPro Inc. 2012. Technical and Economic Analysis of the Transition to Ultra-Low Sulfur Fuels in Brazil, China, India and Mexico. Prepared for the International Council on Clean Transportation.

ii. HE, Hui. 2013. Policy measures to finance the transition to lower sulfur motor fuels. Working paper 2013-2. San Francisco: The International Council on Clean Transportation.

iii. http://worldmaritimenews.com/archives/155743/vietnam-to-switch-to-low-sulphur-marine-fuel/

iv. http://www.mpa.gov.sg/sites/maritime_singapore/msgi/green-port-programme.page

v. http://www.environmentalshipindex.org

vi. http://www.imo.org/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/Pages/44-ECA-sulphur.aspx#.VSY3hpSUcxg

vii. MEC Intelligence. February 2015. Shipping Industry’s Response to ECA 2015. 

viii. http://www.transportportal.se/SWoPEc/CTS2012-22.pdf

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