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Dinosaurs Invade Arab Roads

 By Najib Saab 
February 2006

 Since Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz developed the first automobile petrol engine at the end of the 19th century, and Henry Ford built the first mass production car factory in 1913, technology has advanced tremendously and the perspective to cars and their functions has changed drastically. Although cars are still a box moving on wheels with the function of transporting people and cargo, like the legendary T model that was produced in millions by Henry Ford's factory at the beginning of the 20th century, they have evolved in all other standards and specifications whether related to performance or comfort and luxury.

 Engines became stronger and bigger during decades in which petroleum was a cheap and unlimited energy resource. The specifications for luxury surpassed all anticipated limits to provide maximum comfort and pleasure in driving. However, the gradual limitations of resources and the impacts of internal combustion petroleum engines on the environment, especially carbon dioxide emissions, have led to taking other factors into account.

 The increase of oil prices in the 70s of the last century, and the realization that oil is a resource subject to depletion, forced the development of fuel-efficient engines for economic reasons in particular. This trend nevertheless disappeared after the reduction of oil prices in the 80s, only to bounce back in the 90s due to environmental reasons this time. After global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions became a reality, car makers had to develop highly efficient engines that produce less emissions of carbon dioxide. 

 The American car industry had been swimming against the current during the last 20 years, by continuing to produce heavy cars with big engines. The industry cannot sustain its existence for long if these trends continue as the norm. Higher oil prices, which do not seem to be just a temporary phase, will force back the need to produce economic engines. The American administration has recently shown a clear intention to enforce more stringent restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions after it became impossible to deny the indicators of climate change.

 As we were attempting to collect information on fuel consumption in cars imported to Arab markets and their emissions of carbon dioxide for a cover-story, we discovered the level of apathy in which car producers deal with the Arab regions' markets and the third world in general. Regional websites and promotional materials for cars sold in the region do not mention carbon dioxide, and most do not even specify the fuel consumption rate, as they all focus on the engine output, car dimensions and the luxury items such as fancy leather seats.

 We realized from personal contacts that some of the companies consider CO2 emissions and gas consumption as trade secrets, while the regional officials for other companies did not hear about carbon dioxide emissions. As a result we consulted European and American sources of information where we discovered that some gas-guzzler cars, which can only be compared to extinct Dinosaurs, are manufactured only for Arab countries, especially those in the Gulf, so it is impossible to find information about them from outside sources.

 On the other side, European measures were expanded at the beginning of this year to encourage clean transport means. After basing annual fees on cars in most of European countries on carbon dioxide emissions, the Netherlands declared in the beginning of 2006 a reduction in the price of fuel efficient cars and an increase in the prices of models of high consumption. It also prohibited the entry of big size SVUs to the streets of some cities and imposed high fees for parking such cars in public areas.

 Standards and regulations supported with firm measures and tax restrictions and fees are the only way for transferring the roads of the Arab world from the era of dinosaurs to the 21st century.

Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
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Environment in Arab Media
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