China and Spain Show Efficiency Needn't be Flashy

The Chinese government is restructuring its taxation system for cars and boats, in an effort to encourage smaller engines that consume less fuel and pollute less. Along with making alternative transportation more accessible and electrifying its fast-growing car fleet, steps like this are an important part of reducing carbon emissions and other pollutants on China’s traffic-choked streets.

China has long placed a tax on cars and motor boats, but until recently all vehicles were taxed the same without regard to efficiency or the size of the engine. Under a new law passed Friday by China’s legislature, taxes on vehicles with more efficient engines will be reduced, while those on cars and boats with inefficient engines will go up. It turns out 87% of motor vehicles now on China’s roads are efficient enough to qualify for the lower taxation rates. The new regulation is intended to encourage a still more complete shift away from fuel-guzzling vehicles in China.

Pollution from vehicle tailpipes is an ongoing and growing problem in many Chinese cities, and stems from the boom in car sales over the last few years. Along with the effluents of coal plants used for industry and electricity generation, vehicle pollutants have made the air quality in some Chinese cities worse than almost anywhere else in the world. In some quarters desperate measures are already being taken to minimize pollution by reducing the number of vehicles on the road. Earlier this year, the city of Beijing announced it would restrict the number of new vehicle registrations given out each month.

Local air pollution has probably been China’s biggest concern when it comes to reducing oil consumption. Yet as China struggles to clear its murky skies, other countries are seeking to cut their dependence on oil for other reasons. On the same day that China passed its new vehicle tax, Spain adopted a measure to improve vehicle efficiency due to concerns about rising oil prices. The European country lowered the speed limit on highways from 120 to 110 kilometers per hour.

This doesn’t sound like much, but experts predict the difference in Spain’s new speed limit will make a typical vehicle 15% more fuel efficient, assuming drivers stick to the law. The decision to lower the speed limit was prompted by political unrest in Libya, which has sent oil prices spiking around the world. Spain sources 13% of its oil from Libya.

In the end governments lowering the speed limit or restructuring the tax system for motor vehicles may sound less exciting than car companies rolling out shiny new green vehicles. However the actions of China and Spain on Friday are reminder that effective policies to decrease oil consumption need not be limited to the flashy. Citizens of both countries will be able to breathe easier and pay less at the pump thanks to common sense measures that improve car efficiency and performance. Other countries might do well to emulate them.

Photo credit: "Peter" on Flickr