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Motorcycles a Major Pollutant in Vietnam, Water Transport a Potential Solution

Motorcycles are a major source of transportation in Vietnam, and they look to become even more ubiquitous in the coming years. While the economy is growing, its unlikely most citizens will be able to afford cars and they are likely to opt instead for motorcycles. However, this comes with huge environmental and safety consequences.

While there are potential solutions, including bicycle infrastructure and water transportation, government response has been tepid, documents indicate, because they see rising sea levels and fresh water shortages as greater environmental threats. From SFG:

Environmental issues:

"As Vietnam is poised to double its motorcycle numbers from 20 million at present to 40 million by 2020, it faces the formidable challenge of its carbon footprint growing exponentially and the environment suffering significantly as a result. Already, Vietnam‟s CO2 emissions are estimated at 109 million tons, with two wheelers accounting for 20-25% of them. Motorcycles also account for 54.4% of total CO (Carbon Monoxide) and 54.5% of lead emissions. At the current growth rates of population, GDP and emissions, Vietnam‟s carbon footprint is expected to be almost 200 million tons by 2020, with motorcycles accounting for a large share."

Safety issues:

"Motorcycles produced in Vietnam are described as Chinese motorcycles. A knockdown production system is followed, whereby motorcycle parts are imported in large quantities and at very cheap rates to be assembled locally. Such assembled motorcycles cause 15000 fatalities every year."

Governent response:

"The government has made no serious effort to develop public transport. Buses and trains are in poor shape, with little interest shown in improving them. Due to narrow roads, passengers shun public transport and find it convenient to used motorcycles."

"The environmental decision makers in the government have other priorities. According to Wikileaks, secret correspondence between the US Embassy in Australia and the Australian environmental authority indicates that by 2030, large part of South East Asia will face the combined threats of sea level rise, fresh water shortage and sinking soil ground. In comparison, carbon footprint generated by motorcycles appears to be a small problem."

Water transport as a solution:

"[Vietnam] utilizes only 8000 of the total 41,000 Km of inland waterways for commercial purposes. Water transport opportunities can be maximized. Waterways are the least polluting mode of transport. The Vietnam Inland Waterway Administration aims to develop strategies for a complete water transport network for all of Vietnam by 2020."

Better bikes, cycling infrastructure as a solution:

"Cycling can be reinvented with new technology to make it efficient and comfortable. Vietnam can invest in bicycle technology enabling longer and durable bicycle rides, supported by separate bicycle lanes in cities. In addition, local government authorities can levy parking charges for motorcycles in public spaces."

Mass transit as a solution:

"If foreign investment is attracted, mass transit projects can still be feasible"

Greener bikes as a solution:

"opposed piston engines being designed for two wheelers by entrepreneurs in the United States can be promoted, not only in Vietnam but also across Asia. Such engines would use conventional fuels but operate at 30% more efficiency.

Implications from SFG:

There is enough scope for bike ecology to emerge in the country, Vietnam first needs a serious discourse on its transport policy options for the next decade. Foundations, think-tanks and experts can take the initiative to promote such a policy discourse until the government realizes the importance of policy change and the vast opportunities that waterways, foreign funded mass transit systems, fuel efficient motorcycles and reinvented bicycles can provide

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SFG June 2011, page 16, 17:
http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SFG_June 2011.pdf#page=16