Boosting Fuel Efficiency to Cut Motorcycle Pollution in Viet Nam

Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.
Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.

By Nguyen Anh Tuan

A package of comprehensive measures—inlcuding setting fuel efficiency standards—is the only way to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from motorcycles in the country's 5 main cities.

Since motorcycles are responsible for the largest proportion of vehicular carbon emissions in Viet Nam, decision-makers should prioritize improving fuel efficiency and encouraging the use of clean energy to decrease air pollution and achieve the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to fight climate change as well.

As of 2015, the number of vehicles in Viet Nam was approximately 47 million, of which motorcycles accounted for nearly 96%. The number of motorcycles is rapidly increasing at an annual rate of about 12%, especially in Viet Nam’s five major cities: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hai Phong, and Can Tho. In Viet Nam, motorcycles dominate the urban transport system and are attractive to most people, as they provide higher accessibility and are a more affordable and convenient form of individual transport. 

However, the high level of motorcycle dependency in cities also causes a number of significant transport problems like serious accidents, congestion and air pollution. 

Growing number of motorcycles in Viet Nam’s 5 major cities

Source: Vietnam Register (2015).

While motorcycles have been seen as the main cause of traffic congestion and accidents in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in recent years, they also contribute a large amount of CO2 emissions. According to a 2012 Clean Air Asia report, road transport emissions and particulate matter emissions (primary air pollutant) in Viet Nam are estimated to be increasing at an annual average rate of 12.5% and 8.6%, respectively. In particular, emissions from motorcycles constitute the largest share of road transport CO2 emissions.

Viet Nam’s road transport CO2 emissions by vehicle type in 2010

Source: Clean Air Asia, 2012.

Another study conducted by Oanh et al (2012) shows that although the majority of the motorcycles used are relatively new (at only 3.6 years old) and have four-stroke engines, only 6% of them were equipped with catalyst exhaust control devices and about 35% did not comply with any European environmental standards. In addition, Do (2011) found that 59% of the 1,675 surveyed motorcycles in Hanoi and 52% of the 1,627 surveyed motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City exceeded the emission limit of 4.5% CO2 and 1,200 ppm hydrocarbon.

Despite having urban and regional transport development plans, Viet Nam’s cities are facing various challenges, for example, the lack of fundamental urban road infrastructure or an effective public transport system. The modal share of public transport in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is very low at about 6% and 10%, respectively. National and local governments have paid considerable attention to improving public transport, but the target has yet to be achieved – largely due to limited budget allocation. Also, Bus Rapid Transit and Mass Rapid Transit systems have been developed with support from international organizations, but the progress of construction is slow, and good alternatives to individual motorized transport modes are rare.   

In terms of fuel efficiency standards, a strong legal framework and legal enforcement are needed. As of 2015, Viet Nam has only introduced a Euro 2 and sulphur levels regulation of 500 ppm in both gasoline and diesel consumption, while no mandatory fuel efficiency standards have yet been implemented. Thus, although Viet Nam is characterized by a globally unprecedented number of motorcycles, there haven’t been enough CO2 emission reduction actions undertaken, including policies encouraging the use of alternative energies for motorcycles which are yet to be considered.

On the one hand, the government should adopt and establish strict mandatory standards on fuel consumption limits for motorcycles. Moreover, other measures such as motorcycle labeling—which might have a positive impact on consumer awareness and choices)—incentives and taxes to encourage the purchase of more fuel-efficient motorcycles should be progressively adopted to boost fuel efficiency. The improvements can also be enhanced by establishing the emission controls roadmap for motorcycles that is currently in circulation, and by strengthening cooperation between relevant agencies and local governments. On the other hand, policymakers should shift their attention toward developing and managing the market for electric motorcycles. This can include increasing public awareness of the benefits of using these vehicles, and providing incentives like preferential taxation and registration fees for e-bike users.

It is imperative to realize that any one abovementioned policy intervention will not provide a total solution to reduce motorcycles’ CO2 emissions in Viet Nam, so a package of measures—or an integrated policy approach—should be required to obtain synergies.