Air pollution and role
of the auto industry

Ahmad Safrudin, Jakarta

Air pollution has threatened human health in many parts of the country, especially in the big cities of Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan, Bandung and Semarang.

And since 2001, only Semarang and Bandung have enjoyed good air for more than a month each year, while the rest have enjoyed less than 27 days annually.

The level of pollution in cities has generally exceeded the standard air quality set by the government, especially that of nitrogen-oxide, oxidant and carbon-monoxide.

Of course, such conditions have caused various illnesses and diseases, especially respiratory, hypertension, kidney dysfunction, intellectual problems among children and coronary heart issues.

Referring to various studies and researches over the last decade -- including those conducted by URBAIR (World Bank), RETA (ADB) and JICA -- reveal the main source of pollution is motor vehicles.

At least around 70 percent of urban air pollution is a result of vehicle emissions. Therefore it is reasonable if the strategy to curb air pollution is focused on reducing vehicle emissions.

Efforts would need to include an improvement of fuel quality, an introduction of low emission vehicles, a revision of traffic management, stringent emission standards and strict law enforcement.

Since 1958, the UN has initiated Global Harmonization on Transport Regulation, which is intended to support the arm of Europe's vehicle production that provides safety guarantees and helps to sustain the environment.

Today, world automotive manufacturers have developed vehicles which meet the standard. Europe, America, Japan and countries in Asia Pacific have since 1998 adopted the Standard Euro to measure if emissions are friendly for the environment. This system also determines if the safety of passengers is guaranteed.

Euro Standard is rated by numbers including Euro 1, Euro 2, Euro 3 and Euro 4. The higher the figure the better and safer the vehicle.

In 2003 the Indonesian government reached an agreement with the automotive industry on the application of Euro 2 standard. It took effect on January 1, 2005 according to Decree No. 141/2003 issued by the state minister of environment.

Unfortunately, not all car manufacturers, represented by sole agents (ATPM), were prepared to uphold the decree. They dragged their feet around the implementation of the regulation.

They wanted to delay the enforcement of the decree until 2007 or at least see it only partially implemented.

In fact, the failure of Pertamina, Shell and Petronas to provide cleaner gasoline and low sulfur diesel fuel has slowed the national automotive industry's plan to invest in the development of environment-friendly vehicles.

There are many automotive products applying the Euro 2 standard, but unavailability of cleaner fuels make it impossible for the manufacturers to install some components, including the catalytic converter and diesel particulate filter required to fulfill the standard.

These vehicles are only sold on the domestic market.

Thailand automotive industry has adopted Euro 1 since 1996, Euro 2 since 2001 and Euro 3 since 2004.

Malaysia has applied Euro 1 since 1997 and Euro 2 since 2000.

Vietnam and Laos followed Euro 1 in 1998 and 2000 respectively.

So opportunity and market share in Indonesia's automotive industry in Southeast Asia is no longer wide open.

This not only hurts efforts to decrease urban air pollution, but hurts Indonesia's competitive advantage.

For the principal country, especially Japan which controls 90 percent of the Indonesian automotive market, of course it causes a high cost economy as it cannot centralize its production here.

The high-cost economy prompted Mitsubishi to close its plant here in April 2005 and increase production in Thailand.

Another impact is the decline in total sales to bellow 400,000 in 2006, a major plunge compared the more than 500,000 in the previous year.

Fuel producers say they are reluctant to improve their product quality due to the government's unclear energy policy and careless strategy to advance the automotive industry.

Sophisticated technology and environment-friendly vehicles that roam through the highway of big cities in Indonesia are imported products.

The national automotive industry should immediately revise their policy and coordinate with their principals.

But the Indonesian government should immediately ensure the availability of cleaner fuels.

And Japan's government needs to promptly encourage its automotive industry to ensure subsidiaries in Indonesia adopt the Euro 2 standard. Environment-friendly technology helps cut social costs resulting from air pollution and makes the automotive industry more competitive.

The writer is chairman of the Joint Committee for Leaded Gasoline Phase-out (KPBB). He can be reached at [email protected]

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