People in colorful traditional bus jeepney in Palawan, one of the 7107 islands of the Philippines. Jeepney are used as a very cheap mean of transportation in the Philippines

Asian cities turn to electric vehicles in anti-pollution drive

Image credit: Outcast85 |

Asian cities plan to switch to electric vehicles in a bid to tackle worsening air quality, cut climate-changing emissions, and expand their public transport networks, climate experts have said.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), transportation is the fastest-growing source of climate-warming greenhouse gases, with the vast majority of projected increases expected to come from developing Asia by 2030.

Under the Paris Agreement on climate change signed back in 2016, only seven Asian countries, which include Bangladesh, Japan and South Korea, have agreed to transport emission targets. However, many other cities in the region are now taking initiative, said Madan Regmi, at the United Nations social agency for the Asia-Pacific (UNESCAP).

“Authorities are realising that they can extend metro lines and convert to electric-powered buses that not only lower emissions but also reduce congestion and improve air quality,” he said at a United Nations (UN) climate event in Bangkok, Thailand. “Cities are also adding infrastructure for walking and cycling, which are seen as key to improved liveability.”

The world’s 100 most polluted cities are largely in Asia – with India and China dominating, according to an air quality report published by Greenpeace this year.

To tackle this problem, Shenzhen in southeast China, last year completed conversion of its entire bus fleet of more than 16,000 buses – the largest bus fleet in the world – to electric operation.

Regmi said that China’s capital Beijing has also greatly improved its air quality by switching to clean-energy vehicles. Furthermore, Thailand is testing electric-powered ferries for Bangkok’s canals to replace diesel engines, while India’s transport minister has called for a full switch to electric vehicles by 2030.

In the Philippines, one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of warmer temperatures, the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 hastened the switch to clean-energy jeepneys, the colourful passenger trucks (pictured above) that residents and tourists rely on as their cheapest form of transportation – costing them as little as 8 Philippine pesos (1p) per trip.

As older, more polluting vehicles were phased out, the capital of Manila and the city of Tacloban in the region of Visayas backed solar and electric-powered jeepneys, said Maria Golda Hilario, an associate at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities in Manila.

“Traffic congestion is a reality in Asian cities, but public transport is not to blame. The priority for cities should be to move people, not vehicles,” she said.

However, according to experts, electric buses cost two to four times more upfront than conventional diesel buses and need extensive charging infrastructure. As a result, poorer countries are making do with their current forms of transport.

In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, “pink” buses for women were launched recently with UN funding, and are hybrid vehicles or use clean diesel technology, said Mir Reza Ozgen, an urban and regional planning official.

The buses are aimed at female students and working women who otherwise have to rely on more expensive private transport, or risk harassment on public transport, he said, adding that these vehicles are expected to benefit 1.4 million women annually.

“We have to find feasible solutions that work for us, given our economic constraints,” he said in Bangkok. “These buses will not only reduce emissions, but they will also increase the mobility of women and their access to economic opportunities, so there will be several long-term positive impacts.”

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