Beijing, Berlin, Milan and London welcomed the New Year with progressive new standards, fees and travel restrictions on city drivers that refuse to upgrade to cleaner, more efficient vehicles. Major cities around the world now are adopting similar measures and doing whatever it takes to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and smog produced from vehicles. Although Canada and the United States lag behind Europe in this regard, proposed fuel efficiency standards from several states and provinces may soon close the gap.
Facing tremendous pressure to improve its air quality ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing introduced a new fuel standard on January 1, 2008. Under the new standard, gasoline and diesel sold at all outlets in the capital city must meet standards which are equivalent to the European Union's Euro standards.
China's previous emission standards have reduced sulphur dioxide emissions from automobiles by 2,480 tons annually since they took effect at the end of 2005, according to official statistics. The new standards would cut sulphur dioxide emissions by another 1,840 tons, said Feng Yuqiao, the head of the motor vehicle department of the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau.
Under the Olympic host city's ambitious 'blue sky' plan, it must have 70 percent of the days in 2008 up to plan standards. Reports suggest about 40 percent to 50 percent of the major pollutants in Beijing's air - nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and particulate matter - come from vehicle exhaust emissions.
There are an estimated 3.1 million motor vehicles in Beijing with about 1,000 to 1,200 vehicles added to the city's congested roads every day. The city plans to remove 1.3 million of those vehicles from roadways for the duration of the Olympics as well as permanently banning 300,000 cars with high emissions.
Also on January 1, 2008, Berlin and two other German cities, Cologne and Hanover, introduced ' environmental zones' to help reduce vehicle emissions. These plans require drivers to display a coloured sticker on their vehicle to enter the inner city zones. The colour depends on the pollutants the vehicle emits and depending on the sticker a vehicle may be denied access to certain zones.
The stickers - green, red or yellow - are mandatory not only for locals but also for foreign drivers, including tourists and cost $10 to obtain. The cities are gradually phasing in fines of $60 for anyone caught driving without a sticker.
The city of Milan in Italy introduced some of the most extreme measures to control vehicle emissions in the New Year with its Eco-pass Program. On weekdays between 7:30 am and 7:30 pm, vehicles that wish to enter the city must now purchase a ticket priced at the equivalent of fifteen US dollars.
The eco-pass is being policed by cameras at 43 electric gates around an 8-sq-km inner area. Anyone failing to purchase a ticket will be fined the equivalent of 100 US dollars. Money raised will go towards buses, cycle paths and green vehicles.
An estimated 89,000 vehicles take to the city's streets every day but city officials say traffic on the first day of the scheme was 40% lower than normal.
The London Low Emission Zone, which goes live on February 4, 2008, is the most ambitious new vehicle emission program for the New Year and covers the whole of Greater London. Older vehicles which do not meet new Euro emission standards when entering the city face a non-negotiable fine that ranges from the equivalent of $200 to $2000.
Meanwhile in North America, California and 15 other states are suing the U.S. federal government for blocking tough new vehicle emission standards. The proposed state level emission standards are stricter than of the federal government and, according to California, would be the equivalent of taking 6.5 million vehicles off California roads by 2020.
'It is unconscionable that the federal government is keeping California and 19 other states from adopting these standards,' California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. 'They are ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming.'
If passed the standards will be some of the most stringent in the world, reducing vehicle emissions by 30% by 2020.
Although California's proposed standards were blocked, an energy bill passed in the United States in mid-December marked the first time since 1975 fuel efficiency standards in the U.S. were changed. The new efficiency standard is 35 mpg, up from the previous 25 mpg.
In Canada, Quebec is in the process of adopting emission standards similar to the proposed California standard, and Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia plan to follow suit. Prior to the 2007 provincial elections, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty stated that Ontario, which produces 28% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions, will also adopt standards similar to those proposed for California.
Auto FutureTech Summit 2008, the inaugural conference on the future of the transportation industry, will include a session on Transportation Technology, Mobility and Cities. The sessions will cover potential solutions to the problems of maximizing customer value while meeting new expectations for greater efficiency and lower emissions. Auto FutureTech 2008 will be held in Vancouver, BC, from March 12 to 14, 2008.