Electric Cars and Motorcycles – for the Good of the Planet

This photo taken on April 27, 2009 shows cars lining the streets in a traffic jam in Phnom Penh (AFP)
  • Sao Phal Niseiy
  • November 16, 2019 4:19 AM

Cambodia’s economic growth remains robust and, with an annual rate of 7 percent, this has given rise to a middle-class population over the last few years. More Cambodians have seen their buying power expand, leading to more people owning automobiles, which is especially noticeable in the country’s capital of Phnom Penh.  

According to the Department of Traffic Police and Public Order, around 700,000 cars and 3.5 million motorcycles are now registered throughout Cambodia. And considering the economic growth that continues to increase, it can be anticipated that the number of Cambodians owning cars or motorcycles will go up in the coming years. After all, owning a car makes one’s life more comfortable, let alone looking cool. 

Of course, the snowballing car or motorbike usage does indicate that more Cambodians are probably better off economically, but this is not necessarily good for the environment. Since cars and motorcycles—except for the very few electric ones being used—have fuel combustion engines, people are now responsible for a huge amount of harmful greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere. In other words, the pollution we create with our vehicles is hurting the Earth badly.  

This can be seen as very unfair since the environmental cost of owning fuel-powered vehicles is starting to be discussed and the urgency of actions to reduce the impending effect is being called upon in least-developed countries such as Cambodia, whose contribution to global pollution remains relatively insignificant. 

But this perception must not become a roadblock on our part to heal our Planet. 

Making prosperity work for the Earth

What people should be aware of is that the automobiles we use not only produce carbon dioxide (CO2) but also produce “methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from the tailpipe and hydrofluorocarbon emissions from leaking air conditioners,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And these emissions have long been known as a cause of climate change.  

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is of the essence not only to deal with air pollution as such but also to tackle climate change by keeping temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But with the growing number of automobile users, the Cambodian government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases according to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement will most likely be undermined without proper measures, and so will the ambitious global mission of saving the world from peril. 

Dealing with the increasing number of cars and ushering in more innovative solutions should be a priority for Cambodia to ensure that the increasing automobile users won’t prevent the country from meeting its pledge as a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

First, disseminating information on the environmental cost of fuel-combustion vehicles may help prevent future consequences. We can’t prevent others from owning automobiles but informing them of the environmental impact may at least encourage them to think twice whether the benefits of using a car really outweighs protection of the Earth.  

Second, it is time for the government to take the initiative to reduce the number of automobiles by introducing measures including tax on cars and initiatives such as car-free days while developing public transportation to cope with the dramatic rise in public demand for transportation.  

Once the number of cars is reduced, the ever-growing traffic congestion in Phnom Penh and other cities in the country, plus the traffic accidents that on average cost Cambodia as much as $350 million per year, can be averted.  Moreover, air pollution, which is a major health hazard in increasingly urbanized Cambodia, will also be curtailed.      

Time to invest in electric vehicles? 

In addition to discouraging people from having private vehicles, scaling up more environmentally-friendly means of transport such as electric vehicles may prove a practical and acceptable alternative to the public while ultimately tumbling the use of fossil-fuel combustion engines. 

The goal of making electric vehicles accessible is now more critical than ever not only for Cambodia but also for all Southeast Asian nations due to the rising concern over pollution and congestion in large cities. According to the Bangkok Post, it is estimated that “another $500 million in new charging infrastructure will be needed to support electrification needs by 2030” throughout the region.

On Cambodia’s part, when it comes to making electric vehicles viable, the government has a big role to play and the task is a challenging one. It comes first with the government’s responsibility to provide the private sectors and users with more incentives in order to boost electric vehicle sales.

It is worth noting that there have been many best practices implemented by numerous countries throughout the world, including Cambodia’s close friend China, in order to foster such transition. Cambodia should look into this and select the measures that may apply to the country.

The next step is helping people understand the benefit of electric vehicles. Because in the end, the successful adoption of those vehicles will depend on the quality of the products as well as how much consumers know about the importance of switching to this mode of transportation. 

This will require nationwide electrification and improving charging infrastructures across the country to support and facilitate electric-vehicle usage—a means to an end that most likely remains an enormous assignment for the government to achieve. 

Now, the ball is in the Cambodia’s court to decide what needs done to make this a reality, protecting its citizens’ health and environmental welfare being its priority.

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