August 19, 2002

UNEP Mobility Forum Publishes Report on Sustainable Development for the Auto Industry

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has published 22 sector reports both to verify the implementation status of Agenda 21 on the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) that will be held in Johannesburg from August 26 to September 4, 2002, and to establish action plans targeting ten or fifteen years from now based on trends and developments in the past decade.

The report on the automotive sector was initiated by the UNEP Mobility Forum, a voluntary undertaking of automobile manufacturers in cooperation with UNEP. Preparation of the report began in 2001 under the supervision of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), in collaboration with the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) and its member companies.

The report is summarized as follows.

1. Core competencies of the automotive industry

Since the Rio conference in 1992, the automotive industry has made considerable progress in its efforts to promote sustainable development. Advanced technological solutions have been implemented to minimize energy and water consumption, emissions and waste in manufacturing plants. On the product side, major achievements include reduced fuel consumption and widespread use of catalytic converters leading to a reduction of exhaust emissions. Other achievements include reduction of noise, vehicle safety improvements, the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), and vehicle recycling initiatives. For example, under optimal conditions, 100 of today's new cars produce the same amount of emissions as a car built in the 1970s. This is a direct result of new engine technologies and advanced exhaust gas treatment systems.

Emissions from heavy-duty commercial vehicles have decreased to 10-20% of the levels in the 1970s. Major improvements achieved in the 1990s included the definition of legislative steps that ensure much better air quality in industrialized countries over the next ten years. All companies publish regular reports to keep the public informed about progress in this highly relevant area.

The automotive industry continues to place great importance on new creative concepts in product design and development. For example, technological solutions are often ahead of legal regulations and directives. Best practice on economic, environmental and social improvements is achieved through integrated supply chains, environmental management systems, and social commitment in accordance with the Global Compact and other initiatives.

Primary achievements:

  • Reduced fuel consumption (Voluntary Agreement on CO2 reduction)
  • Lower exhaust emissions (use of direct-injection engines and catalytic converters)
  • Lower noise (average reduction by 90% compared with 1970 figures)
  • Improved safety (four times safer than in 1970)
  • Phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) (alternative use of less harmful substances such as HCFCs [hydrochlorofluorocarbons] and HFCs [hydrofluorocarbons])
  • Recycling (application of Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) methods)
  • Introduction of management systems including ISO 14000, and implementation of life-cycle analysis
  • Development of hybrid, fuel-cell and alternative-energy technologies

2. Sustainable development is a major challenge

The automotive industry supports a joint commitment to improving environmental, economic and social performance. Some of the major challenges include controlling climate change, improving air quality in urban areas and promoting sustainable development in the supply chain. However, it is up to the individual companies to demonstrate their innovative potential by defining appropriate measures within their global reach. In establishing the overall perspective, the technological, behavioral and institutional aspects should be kept in mind and based on a suitable infrastructure.

Great attention is being paid to reducing the consumption of the fossil fuels that contribute to CO2 emissions and the greenhouse effect. Reducing harmful emissions also improves air quality, especially in urban areas. The industry is also developing alternative energies and sources to power vehicles. This benefits the environment and reduces dependence on fossil fuels. Other issues include noise reduction, removal of lead from fuel in developing countries, reducing traffic congestion and improving safety.

Principal goals and objectives:

  • Promotion of sustainable development in the supply chain: Adoption of environmental standards by vehicle manufacturers in the selection of their suppliers
  • Control of greenhouse gases: Reduction of CO2 and other harmful emissions
  • Dissemination of lead-free fuels and improved fuel quality
  • Development of alternative energies and fuel cells: Consideration of tax incentives and promotion of fuel infrastructure
  • Improvements in road safety: Improved safety measures in both active and passive safety

3. Intelligent interactive traffic solutions

In future, intelligently linked traffic systems will be necessary to efficiently and effectively move people and goods. This requires an optimized interaction of different means of transport at both the inter-modal and intra-modal levels. The automotive industry meets these challenges with technological innovations and joint actions. These include the internal use of information technology, increased cooperation with suppliers as well as providing new telematics solutions for motor vehicles and the road infrastructure. Building and managing a transportation infrastructure and designing linked modes of transport will be a key issue for the countries and their governments in the developing world.

4. New forms of partnership promise success

These complex tasks illustrate that the challenge of sustainable development requires new forms of partnership and cooperation. The automotive industry is only one of a number of players affecting transport. For major goals to be achieved a joint commitment from all players, including politicians, is required. The key role of the industry is to promote technological development and provide integrated solutions for transport and mobility. Political determination and institutional commitment is needed to address long-term issues like alternative energy sources, infrastructure and traffic management. From the standpoint of the automotive industry, one of the most promising solutions consists of intensive cooperation with governments, institutions and private companies in the form of public-private or private-private partnerships. Continuous dialogue with stakeholders reinforces the involvement and understanding of all interested parties. The automotive industry actively assumes a key role in this joint global effort to promote sustainable development by contributing its expertise, commitment and global reach.