Rethinking diesel

For the Indian promoters of diesel, there are bad signals from Japan, the country that has been at the helm of the global automobile revolution in recent times. The Tokyo metropolitan government has launched an unprecedented campaign against diesel vehicles to combat the city's persistent problem of air pollution, points out a report published in the Financial Times of London. Led aggressively by its new governor Shintaro Ishihira, Tokyo city launched a campaign to "Say No! to Diesel vehicles' on August 30, 1999.

The metropolitan government is calling on the citizens to boycott diesel vehicles, saying that emissions from diesel vehicles are the "single biggest polluter of Tokyo's skies', the report says. As a part of the campaign, the government has asked citizens not to ride, buy or sell diesel passenger cars in the metropolitan area and is asking businesses to make compulsory the use of vehicles that use alternative fuel wherever possible. The city government says it will replace 40 of its diesel vehicles and will also provide low interest finance to those who buy passenger cars that run on alternative, environment-friendly technologies. The city government also urged the Central government to accelerate the development of emission control devices, make them mandatory for diesel vehicles and to advance the restrictions on diesel emissions scheduled for 2007. It also urged the Centre to revamp the special reduced tax rate on diesel vehicles. A study by the Tokyo government shows that the tax on diesel is less than half that of petrol.

An official of the metropolitan government was quoted in the newspaper as saying, "We have been concerned about diesel fuel for some time because air pollution has not improved for 10 years.' The city government says "the primary cause is exhaust gas from diesel vehicles', which accounts for 70 per cent of nitrogen dioxide released and all suspended particulate matter, according to the newspaper report.

While the Tokyo government has singled out diesel exhaust emissions for causing urban air pollution, they have not said anything about petrol. But automakers in India have been arguing that both diesel and petrol cars emit the same levels of particulates. Clearly, Indian automakers are trying to disinform the public about the colossal health threat from particulate pollution from diesel vehicles. It is sad to see how low these industrial giants can stoop to ensure their profits, even in the face of growing evidence against diesel use in urban areas. Now, contrary to what automakers in India would have us believe, even European governments are not buying the argument that diesel is a good option, especially in view of recent studies that say diesel does not really help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide ( co 2 ), the main greenhouse gas. They are also cracking down on diesel in view of the particulate pollution problem.
Europe's turnaround The fuel pricing policy of the European governments have been responsible for the increase in the use of diesel cars. Petrol is taxed much higher in all the countries, providing diesel a clear cost advantage. Governments in Europe are also waking up to the diesel paradox as they realise that promoting diesel is not a very good idea really, especially in view of recent studies showing that diesel does not really help reduce co 2 emissions (see box: Diesel: no answer to global warming ).

A recent study conducted for the us department of energy by researchers of the International Energy Agency, Paris, France, points out that "fuel pricing is clearly the key element to bring diesel to the carbon saving mode'. According to the researchers, "real reductions in carbon emissions' are possible only if emissions are reduced per car per year, and "not simply in terms of fuel use/km'. But so far automobile companies have been targeting co 2 reduction in terms of gramme per km, while diesel emits more co 2 per volume of fuel used, the study points out.

"The popularity of diesel cars has not gone unnoticed by environmental authorities, particularly in the uk and the Netherlands,' say the authors of the study. "In Germany, new rules may make it impossible to drive diesels in certain regions on officially declared smoggy days. In France, the government has announced long-term changes in the pricing of diesel and of the taxation of diesel cars and diesel fuel consumed. The Dutch government has also begun to swing both variable and fixed fees on diesel fuel and diesel vehicles to favour lpg (liquefied petroleum gas) over diesel,' they observe.

"Technology alone, without clear price signals does not always yield the full energy and carbon savings that many would imagine,' say Schipper and Marie-Lilliu. This study surely knocks the bottom out of the industry's pet argument that simply promoting diesel will help check global warming. The future of diesel is indeed bleak; it gets chased out from cities by those concerned about urban smog and dumped by those fighting global warming.

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