skip to primary navigationskip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Jonathan Di Muro

Analysis of the effects of US and EU environmental policy on Mobile source pollution

Jonathan Di Muro

Analysis of the effects of US and EU environmental policy on Mobile source pollution

The current transportation paradigm that most highly industrialized countries subscribe to is highly dependent on the automobile for personal transportation. The automobile, in its present technological state, is not a highly sustainable mode of transportation.  It is fuelled by unsustainable fossil fuel sources, it causes significant pollution during manufacture, use and end of life, and the health effects of this pollution have been well documented (Windhoff-Heritier et al 1996).  Even considering its shortcomings, transportation, especially personal transportation, is essential for quality of life in the industrialized world.

This study investigates the means by which national governments have attempted to control both the use of the automobile as a form of transportation, and the pollution created through its use.  National policies have been formulated in the past, and often regulate the type of technology used in automobiles, such as requiring the use of catalytic converters, or the prohibition of leaded gasoline.  Some more recent policies address the underlying demand for personal transportation, and attempt to either quell the need for automobile, or the demand for its use.

Sustainable development suggests that, if we are to create a more sustainable transport system, changes made to the current state must be cost effective, environmentally beneficial, and improve social welfare.  Naturally, these three conditions are highly interdependent, complex notions that are not easily given numerical values.  This study investigates the interaction between policies in various countries and draws conclusions about the effectiveness of the control system on automobile use, however stops short of outlining a perfectly sustainable transport system.

The investigation uses the national governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Germany as policy models, and compares the approach to pollution control from automobile use in each country.  The three countries were chosen for a number of reasons.  Most importantly, each country was approximately equally developed.  Also, the three countries had approached pollution control from different viewpoints historically.  At the same time, the three countries were close enough demographically to compare similarities as well as differences.  As I have lived in each country, I was able to apply a unique cultural perspective that was useful in determining the likely social reactions from various policies.

Key stakeholders were identified in the study to be the citizenry of the country, the national governments of the three countries, and the automobile industry.  Historically, national governments have concerned themselves with the environment and public health, both of which are ultimately achieved by the reduction of pollution from vehicle use.  This report does not focus heavily on the economic effects of various policies on the automobile industry, as most of the costs of government-mandated technology on cars are ultimately financed through the purchase price of vehicles.  What was noted, however, was the effect that national policies had at encouraging vehicle turnover, which can be used as a proxy for new car purchases.

The public have much to gain or lose depending on the type of national policy employed.  Many of the fiscal approaches aimed at reducing demand for personal transportation take the form of direct increase to the cost of driving.  Various stakeholders within the larger public stakeholder group may suffer a disproportionate economic burden, should the proper care in developing a fiscal strategy not be taken.

Perhaps most importantly, this study was conducted with the understanding that there is a limit to the nature and strength of public policies that are available to policy makers in democratically elected governments.  National governments have a difficult task of balancing popular support with sustainability.  The amount of leverage a national government has in employing various policies analyzed in this report is highly dependant on the cultural underpinnings of the nation, and cannot be ignored.  Finally, analysis of the policies was conducted using Systems Dynamics, a modelling structure that seeks to identify and quantify the causal relationships between the national policies and the intended results, namely the effect those policies have at reducing pollution from automobiles.

The key research questions that guided this study were:
• What types of air pollution are caused by automobile use?
• What technological means exist to reduce the per-mile pollution from car use?
• What policy options are available to national governments that seek to either reduce per-mile pollution or overall automobile use?
• Which policies have been employed by each country?
• How effective are the policies in isolation, and how do they react with one another?
• Are some policies inherently more effective than others?
• Are there policies that are not being employed, or are overused in each country, and are there potential benefits to introducing new policies or adjusting the existing ones?