Letter | Published:

Impacts and mitigation of excess diesel-related NOx emissions in 11 major vehicle markets

Nature volume 545, pages 467471 (25 May 2017) | Download Citation


Vehicle emissions contribute to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and tropospheric ozone air pollution, affecting human health1,2,3,4,5, crop yields5,6 and climate5,7 worldwide. On-road diesel vehicles produce approximately 20 per cent of global anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are key PM2.5 and ozone precursors8,9. Regulated NOx emission limits in leading markets have been progressively tightened, but current diesel vehicles emit far more NOx under real-world operating conditions than during laboratory certification testing10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20. Here we show that across 11 markets, representing approximately 80 per cent of global diesel vehicle sales, nearly one-third of on-road heavy-duty diesel vehicle emissions and over half of on-road light-duty diesel vehicle emissions are in excess of certification limits. These excess emissions (totalling 4.6 million tons) are associated with about 38,000 PM2.5- and ozone-related premature deaths globally in 2015, including about 10 per cent of all ozone-related premature deaths in the 28 European Union member states. Heavy-duty vehicles are the dominant contributor to excess diesel NOx emissions and associated health impacts in almost all regions. Adopting and enforcing next-generation standards (more stringent than Euro 6/VI) could nearly eliminate real-world diesel-related NOx emissions in these markets, avoiding approximately 174,000 global PM2.5- and ozone-related premature deaths in 2040. Most of these benefits can be achieved by implementing Euro VI standards where they have not yet been adopted for heavy-duty vehicles.

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Support was provided by the Hewlett Foundation, the ClimateWorks Foundation, the European Climate Foundation, Energy Foundation China and the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied System Team. We are grateful to F. Posada, T. Dallman, J. German, R. Muncrief, A. Bandivadekar, H. He, D. Rutherford and F. Kamakaté for assistance with regional diesel NOx emissions inventories; G. Bishop for access to US remote sensing data; J. Apte and N. Fann for discussions on the health impact methodology; and R. van Dingenen for assistance with the crop impact methodology.

Author information

Author notes

    • Forrest Lacey
    •  & Vicente Franco

    Present addresses: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA (F.L.); European Commission Directorate-General for Environment, Brussels, Belgium (V.F.).

    • Susan C. Anenberg
    •  & Joshua Miller

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Environmental Health Analytics LLC, Washington DC, USA

    • Susan C. Anenberg
  2. International Council on Clean Transportation, Washington DC, USA

    • Joshua Miller
    • , Ray Minjares
    • , Li Du
    •  & Vicente Franco
  3. Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA

    • Daven K. Henze
    •  & Forrest Lacey
  4. Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York, York, UK

    • Christopher S. Malley
    •  & Lisa Emberson
  5. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria

    • Zbigniew Klimont
    •  & Chris Heyes


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S.A. and J.M. contributed equally. S.A., J.M., V.F., D.H. and R.M. planned the research, J.M., L.D., V.F. and R.M. developed the on-road diesel NOx emissions inventories, Z.K. and C.H. developed the inventories of all other emissions, D.H. performed the model simulations, S.A., C.M., F.L. and D.H. performed the impact calculations, all authors analysed the results, and S.A. and J.M. wrote the paper with help from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Susan C. Anenberg or Joshua Miller.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks R. Burnett and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Methods which include additional detail on the emission scenario development, impact assessment methods, and results. It also contains Supplementary Tables 1-6, which show policy implementation timelines, emission factor studies reviewed, comparison of mortality results to other studies, mortality results by vehicle type, years of life lost results, and crop impact parameters.

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