The impact of vehicle and fuel standards on premature mortality and emissions

Published: 2013.11.04

Sarah Chambliss, Josh Miller, Cristiano Façanha, Ray Minjares, Kate Blumberg

Technology-forcing regulations in the United States, European Union, and Japan have resulted in highly effective controls of tailpipe emissions. Advanced aftertreatment technology and engine tuning, in combination with ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (less than ten parts per million), can reduce tailpipe particulate matter emissions by over 99 percent compared with uncontrolled engines. EU standards, and equally stringent U.S., Canadian, and Japanese standards, now require these technologies on all new vehicles sold. In countries that have adopted such strict standards, the health impacts of vehicle emissions are expected to drop through 2030, as are emissions of short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon.

Many countries around the world have adopted policies patterned on the European regulation, but the significant majority of these have not implemented the Euro 6/VI stage, the latest and most stringent regulatory level. This study finds that if that lag persists and present trends in vehicle activity continue, the result will be a 70% increase in early deaths from tailpipe PM2.5 emissions by 2030, compared to the present. Conversely, if all countries were to follow an accelerated roadmap to vehicle emission regulations equivalent to Euro 6/VI standards, in tandem with fuel-quality regulations limiting sulfur content to 10 to 15 parts per million (ppm), early deaths globally from road vehicle emissions would fall by 75% in the year 2030, representing a cumulative gain of 25 million additional years of life. This policy roadmap would also produce a net annual reduction of at least 200 MtCO2e from short-lived climate pollutants in 2030 (using GWP-100 values). Climate benefits in the near-term (estimated using a GWP-20) are more than three times as large given the rapid benefits that the control of black carbon provides. For countries that are still far from reaching the Euro 6/VI equivalent standard, an interim policy target of Euro 4/IV-equivalent standards and 50 ppm sulfur fuel is a reasonable goal that provides substantial benefits.


  • 50 percent of urban vehicle emissions and associated health impacts currently occur in regions that account for only twenty percent of global vehicle activity, especially developing regions of the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific.
  • Diesel trucks and buses, especially those with minimal emission controls, account for more than 80 percent of global fine particle and nitrogen oxide emissions from road vehicles.
  • Accelerated adoption of stringent fuel and vehicle standards in those jurisdictions that do not currently mandate the equivalent of Euro 6/VI or U.S. Tier 3 regulations, would prevent 210,000 premature deaths in 2030 and mitigate 1.4 GtCO2e (applying GWP-100 metric) cumulatively from 2015 to 2030, 95 percent of which would come from reductions in black carbon. The climate benefits are 3.5 times greater when considering near-term impacts (using GWP-20).
  • Accelerated policy adoption in China and India alone would prevent 90,000 early deaths in the year 2030, about 40 percent of the global total.

Note: The executive summary of this report has been slightly revised to emphasize that, because the analysis does not capture rural impacts or secondary pollutant formation in the atmosphere, this report is only able to capture a portion of the health impacts expected through cleaner fuel and vehicle standards, and the impacts detailed in it should be considered a lower-bound estimate.