Future air quality hinges on stricter diesel policies 

Economy January 23, 2019 01:00


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THE SMOG hangs heavily over Bangkok as residents raise a sense of urgency over quality of air. 

Though the air quality usually worsens to extreme levels this time of year, it is actually a problem that exists throughout the year.

In fact, air pollution has become one of the largest causes of death in modern society, In 2015, there were 3.2 million premature deaths in Southeast Asia, compared to the approximately |316,000 road deaths per year in the region, the World Health Organisation reported.

A major source of the pollution in Thailand is the heavy-duty diesel vehicles, which emit high levels of particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (Nox). This problem can be eased by substituting the heavy-duty ones with the low-emission diesel vehicles available and used in several countries. 

To enable a shift to a broader adoption of this cleaner technology, stronger emission standards are required from the Pollution Control Department (PCD).

Scania, a Sweden-based manufacturer of buses, heavy vehicles and diesel engines, is urging the PCD to increase the emissions standard for heavy-duty vehicles from the current Euro 3 to Euro 6. Increasing the standard to Euro 6 will effectively reduce the emission of PM and NOx by 90 per cent. 

Setting a higher emissions standard and the resulting reduction in air pollution will not only give Bangkok citizens cleaner air and improved health, it will also boost the city’s reputation among the 20 million tourists visiting every year. Plus, it will prove that Thailand is serious about its quest to be recognised as the automotive hub of Asia.

Other Asian countries have already recognised the urgency to improve air quality and are rapidly improving their emission standards. India, for instance, plans to introduce its own version of Euro 6 (BS 6) next year, as is China (China 6a). South Korea and Singapore have already implemented Euro 6 – the standard for new vehicles in Europe since 2013. Now Thailand has an opportunity to participate in this movement and set a clear timeline for the introduction of Euro 6 emission standards in the transport sector.

Of course, there is a cost to a technology shift like this. 

The vehicles are more expensive and refineries need upgrading to lower the sulphur content of diesel below 10 ppm. However, with less air pollution, the cost of healthcare can be expected to drop. According to a Kasetsart University |study on pollution-related health |costs in 2017, every microgram of |PM10 beyond the safe limit costs Bangkokians up to Bt18.42 billion in medical expenses.

However, the expenditure on cleaner air will increase lifespans, which in itself is invaluable. 

The government can use subsidies, a scrappage scheme, taxes and other financial controls to support the shift and see this as an investment in the people’s health.

Furthermore, improvements to export opportunities and Thailand’s reputation for innovation are other positive effects that can be expected.

Scania has set its strategy to lead the shift to a sustainable transport system and hopes to collaborate with the government to boost the quality of life for Thais. 

STEFAN DORSKI is managing director at Scania Siam Co Ltd.