By Sadiga Mehdizadeh*
Air pollution has long been considered one of Azerbaijan’s top environmental problems. During the Soviet period, industrial plants and factories, especially in the cities Sumgayit and Baku, along with the oil industry, accounted for almost for 80 percent of air pollution. But following the sudden shift in national economy in the early 1990s, most industrial plants, especially chemical ones, were closed. This resulted in lower emissions and tangible improvements in air quality. Regrettably, the early 2000s saw the return of air pollution to the list of key environmental dangers. Economic development, rising household incomes, and inadequate public transport services have led to rapid growth in car ownership, bringing a major new source of air pollution: transport emissions.
Currently transport is accountable for 80% of air pollution. In response to this increasing threat Azerbaijan has implemented European emission standards. Certainly the application of the Euro 2 (2010) and Euro 4 (2014) standards marks a significant step forward in terms of policy. But has it led to the anticipated improvement in air quality? What are the challenges in this regard?
Early national policy documents on environmental protection included general requirements on reducing air pollution. Requirements for stationary sources of pollution (plants, factories) were more developed than for mobile sources (cars, buses). But changing patterns in the sources of air pollution – i.e. increasing numbers of vehicles on the roads – have emphasized the need for a new approach to mobile sources of pollution. The decision on the implementation of the Euro emission standards has introduced highly specific regulations; this should be considered as a successful step at the current stage of environmental policy making. For instance, under article 21.1 of the Law on N 517-IQ/03.07.1998, the production, operation and import of vehicles exceeding pollution levels is forbidden. The implementation of these new emission standards has set clear benchmarks, avoiding a vague or general policy approach.
The introduction of Euro 4 had significant impact by introducing binding requirements on car import rates. According to the State Customs Committee, car imports fell by 39.3% in 2014. The primary reason for this decline is the non-compliance of imported cars with Euro 4 standards. As mentioned above, national legislation forbids the import of vehicles that does not comply with these environmental requirements.
Despite gradual changes in air quality policy and the recent decline in the import of environmentally non-compatible cars, air quality has not improved during the last four years. Since 2010, when the first Euro emission standards were introduced, pollution trends have in fact increased. (Figure 1.)
There are several factors that undermine the successful practical application of the Euro emission standards, and impede improvements in air quality. The most crucial and urgent of those can be grouped into two categories.
Fuel quality. Fuel quality is key to the successful implementation of Euro emission standards. Currently, the national standards database does not include specific standards on fuel quality for cars. The AZS 059-2001 document on “Unleaded motor gasoline. Specifications.” is the main instrument on fuel quality, and this only covers the technical features of the product. The absence of fuel quality standards undermines the implementation of Euro standards, monitoring activities, and consequently, overall compliance.
On the other hand, gasoline produced in Azerbaijan, which covers almost 91% of domestic demand, does not comply with the Euro 4 standards. According to the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, in 2014 the Azerneftyag and The Baku Oil Refinery named after Heydar Aliyev produced 1206.3 thousand tons of A-92 type gasoline, which mainly been used to cover domestic demand. Overall the rate of gasoline consumed by transport within the country comprised 1357,4 thousand tons for 2014.
Vehicle inspection and compliance. Roadworthiness tests are also an important tool in emission standards compliance. The State Traffic Police holds primary responsibility for technical inspections and testing the environmental compliance of vehicles. These technical checks are performed on a regular basis at both stationary and mobile posts. It should be noted that the Law on Road Traffic N517- IQ/03.07.1998 has identified compliance with environmental standards of as one of the main three components of the inspection. It is prohibited to operate a vehicle that is not in compliance with the seven indicators.
However, the practical application of the abovementioned requirements needs a more targeted approach. For instance, environmental roadworthiness is currently assessed by visual inspection. Visual inspections should comprise the first level of the roadworthiness test. More detailed technical elements should address environmental and technical norms. Moreover, the technical capacity of the State Traffic Police in regard to conducting efficient and effective inspections should be strengthened.
There is no doubt that the implementation of modern environmental standards would strengthen national environmental protection mechanisms. But implementation should be managed through gradual transition. The shortcomings mentioned above emerged mainly as a result of the hasty introduction of emission standards. For better compliance results and positive outcomes, the introduction of Euro emission standards should be divided into two phases.
The first phase should cover preliminary preparations over a period of three years. Issues related to technical capacity, fuel quality and legislative harmonization should be assessed and adjusted. The second phase should include a deadline for the full implementation of the standards.
Financial and administrative sanctions for non-compliance should be activated only at the beginning of the second phase.
The further implementation of Euro emission standards is dependent on a number of key developments. Primarily, national standards on fuel quality need to be introduced at the same time as the Euro emission standards. In addition, there is need to enhance the technical capacity of the State Traffic Police, with special focus on an institutional action plan to deal with the issue of vehicles that are still in use but non-compliant with the new emission standards.
About the author:
*Ms. Sadiga Mehdizadeh, visiting research fellow at the Caspian Center for Energy and Environment (CCEE)
This article was published by CCEE as Policy Brief 19 (PDF).