Not Everyone Can Have A Car if We Still Want A Planet — Unless We Change

Jaipur traffic
Flickr photo by katieandmichael

Article originally published on

Much has been made of rising aspirations of the middle class in developing countries, with the implication that this must mean literally hundreds of millions of cars — and hundreds of millions of tonnes of oil use and a resulting CO₂ emissions increase. Last month the Asian Development Bank held its first “Transport Week,” hosting key stakeholders from most Asian nations from Turkey eastward, including several pacific island states. Not surprisingly sessions on CO₂ attracted a large audience on the first day. At the next big confab, “Better Air Quality ‘08” in Bangkok, in November about 1,000 Asian experts and decision makers are expected to develop policies and techniques to transform the discussion into real policies to change how Asia develops.

Getting real stakeholders to the table is the only way to clear the air and reduce CO₂ emissions from transport. With the lack of any real initiative matching the national level programs in the US, engaging the leaders of nations representing close to three billion people in Asia may be a more viable strategy since, with few exceptions, Asia has only started to bury itself in CO₂-intensive development — yet. But time is short. The exceptions — the hopelessly snarled mega-cities of the continent — are attracting more and more people to perennial gridlock. Since so few people in Asia own cars, it may not be too late to change course.

I was asked to prepare much of the background material on such a strategy, based on my 20 years working in India, China and Viet Nam, as well as Mexico and other developing countries. Common wisdom is that unless Indians, Chinese, and everyone else get cars they won’t have the same opportunities of mobility we had as we developed.


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