Environmental Paper on Air Pollution by the Transport Sector in the UAE

Air Pollution by the Transport Sector in the UAE

The World Health Organization (WHO) published an awakening report in 2012 estimating about 7 million annual deaths linked directly to air pollution. The number represents an eighth of the total global deaths, with 2.6 million of the seven million related to outdoor air pollution (Hamdan, Alawadhi & Jiseawi, 2016). While these are global number of deaths caused by pollution, local UAE numbers are also worrying. According to the WHO report on air quality 2012, the UAE is the 7th most polluted country in the world. This is even as previous studies indicated that health consequences of pollution contributed to about 545 deaths in the UAE (Hamdan, Alawadhi & Jiseawi, 2016). Of the pollutants causing deaths and contributing to high pollution, the transport, oil and gas industries are the main contributors. In looking at the contribution of the transport sector to pollution, this paper will look at the most popular makes and models of cars in the UAE, the emission produced by the models, the makes/models most environmental friendly, the effects of air pollution in UAE and possible suggestion and recommendations for the transportation industry.

As an oil-rich region, gas for powering vehicles in the transport sector is not among the major concern of the consumers. Such concerns are largely held by countries that import oil. The lack of concern for oil is especially visible by the most popular makes and models of cars in the region (UAE).  Toyota’s dominance in the car industry is especially felt in the UAE, where it is the most popular make. Perhaps the economical, eco-friendly and reliable nature of the vehicles produced by the company makes it a darling of many car consumers in the region. Toyota’s 32.38% majority market share indeed makes it the most popular vehicle brand in the region. Behind Toyota are brands such as Nissan, Mercedes and Lexus (Toyota luxury brand), with Hyundai closing the top five position of the most popular vehicle makes in the region. The makes hold 9.73%, 8.42%, 8.25% and 7.83% market share respectively, highlighting Toyota’s popularity in the region. Given Toyota’s popularity, its Camry, Corolla and Landcruiser are the top models in the region owning 17% (both Camry and Corolla) and 14.7% market share respectively. Finishing the top five models in market share are Lexus’ Ls (8.22%) and Hyundai’s Accord with a 6.94 market share (Hatla, 2018).

According to Australia’s National Transport Commission (2014), the Camry and Corolla are among the models with the highest emissions. While individually the Camry only emits 121 g/km of carbon dioxide while the Corolla emits 157 g/km of carbon dioxide (the lowest for many models) their collective number given their popularity makes them the highest emitters. The Toyota Landcruiser has higher emissions producing 279 g/km of carbon dioxide, while Lexus’ Ls emitted 151 g/km and Mercedes 158 g/km (National Transport Commission, 2014). While the Camry and Corolla cumulatively have the highest emissions, they individually have among the lowest emissions, in addition to Ls and Mercedes, even as the Landcruiser has among the highest carbon emissions of the top most popular vehicles in the region. It is however given that the Landcruiser would have such high emission levels since it is a sports utility vehicle, known for their high fuel consumption.

Aside from being popular, Toyota is additionally the most environment friendly of all the makes present in the UAE. In an international award of some of the greenest cars in the world, Toyota emerged top, with not only its hybrid cars, put also plug-in hybrid vehicles that use both gasoline and electricity (Gorzelany, 2017). Toyota as a car maker therefore, is not only economically friendly, but also environmental conscious in the production of its vehicles. Hyundai follows Toyota closely in being environmentally friendly. Its vehicles, apart from being long lasting are also fuel efficient. This is in addition to some of their vehicles being entirely electric such as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, which was placed top by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, with a score of 64 (highest ever recorded) and a score of 0.78 on the Environment Damage Index (Gorzelany, 2017).

On average therefore, while Toyota’s vehicles are largely environmentally friendly, their purchase in large numbers makes their carbon emission contribution larger than other makes. Thus, with a 39% market share of the vehicles in UAE, Toyota contributes to a higher level to the environmental pollution of the region than the other models. Moreover, with a 279 g/km of carbon dioxide and the popularity of the Landcruiser as the SUV of choice in the region, Toyota indeed contributes an average of 60% of the carbon emission in the transport sector (NTC, 2014).

The fact that UAE has one of the most toxic air pollutions is a cause for worry given the dangers that come with high levels of air toxification. According to the Economist (2015), the United Arab Emirates has the dirtiest air in the world ahead of the world industrial center, China. Such levels of toxicity are especially dangerous to human health as well as animal and plant life. Among the gases emitted from vehicle exhaust fumes is carbon monoxide. Research suggests that it is among the most fatal types of air poisoning. carbon monoxide poisoning can easily cause death, nausea and other complications. Moreover, it can cause damage to the heart and endanger the life of a fetus among pregnant women. For the UAE, particulate matter poisoning has been among the cause of the 545 deaths in the region in 2007 (Hamdan, Alawadhi & Jisrawi, 2016).

While pollution can be a direct cause of death as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the particulate matter in the air is also among the major cause of premature death and some types of cancer. Given that the region is prone to sand storms, Hamdan, Alawadhi & Jisrawi (2016) argue that these cause public health risks and are among the major causes of premature deaths. additionally, the particulate matter and sandstorm combined increase the risk of different types of cancers “including cancer in upper digestive tract, digestive accessory organs, breast cancer in females and lung cancer in males” (Hamdan, Alawadhi & Jisrawi, 2016, p. 1).

Hamdan, Alawadhi & Jisrawi (2016) state that among the reasons for the region to continue experiencing air pollution, apart from the high contribution of the transport sector, oil and gas industries is the aridity of the country and the absence of forest cover. Sand storms that happen in the region, in addition to smog produced by the transport, gas and oil industries heavily hinder visibility. The dust storms, some of which can last hours can be a major cause of road accidents causing deaths and injuries to road users (The Economist, 2015).

The effects that come with pollution are fatal to both human and plant life and therefore the need to create solutions to the problem of pollution. While it is not possible to do away with pollution completely, one of the ways of reducing it is by changing the energy sources. Alternative energy sources with little to no carbon footprint such as wind, geothermal, solar and hydroelectric power generation can go a long way in not only meeting the energy needs but also reducing pollution (Hamdan, Alawadhi & Jisrawi, 2016).

As one of the major contributors to pollution, innovation in the transportation sector can also go a long way in reducing pollution. The use of public transportation systems that uses clean energy rather than investing in private transportation can help reduce the transportation carbon footprint. Moreover, the innovation can also include the making and adoption of fuel efficient vehicles such as hybrids and electric vehicles which apart from conserving energy, run on clean energy sources.

Further it is possible to reduce emission from power plants, the oil and gas industries by developing filters that sieve particulate matter before releasing smoke through the chimneys into the atmosphere.  Such measures can go a long way in reducing the levels of particulate matter in the atmosphere, which are among the most dangerous of the pollutants.

Pollution is currently a problem in the UAE. With one of the highest levels of pollution in the world, it is important that leaders take remedial measures against pollution given the threat that it posses to human and plant life. These measures are possible but need cooperation between the government through regulation and different industry players. It is only prudent to take the measures soon, if the region is to survive against the catastrophic effects of pollution.




Gorzelany, J. (2017). The ‘greenest’ cars for 2017. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2017/02/14/the-greenest-cars-for-2017/#4589d63cecf1.

Hamdam, N., Alawadhi, H. & Jisrawi, N. (2016). Particulate matter pollution in the United Arab Emirates: Elemental analysis and phase identification of fine particulate pollutants. Proceedings of the 2nd World Congress on New Technologies (NewTech’16) Budapest, Hungary. Retrieved from https://avestia.com/NewTech2016_Proceedings/files/paper/ICEPR/158.pdf.

National Transport Commission (2014). Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Australian vehicles 2013. NTC

The Economist (2014). A dust-up over dust. The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21657805-does-united-arab-emirates-really-have-dirtiest-air-world-dust-up.