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Electric bus in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Photo: ESCAP/Madan Regmi

The Asia-Pacific region is experiencing a rapid increase in demand for passenger transport driven by high population and economic growth rates. While the crucial role of transport for economic and social development cannot be understated, it is important to address the sector's reliance on fossil fuels as the region is responsible for more than half of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Without intervention, 75 per cent of transport-related energy consumption will come from oil products by 2030, and CO2 emissions from transport will increase by 47 per cent in 2050, compared to 2015 levels. Therefore, the transport sector has a pivotal role in the pursuit of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Electrification of the transport system is one solution to decouple transport activities from carbon emissions. Electric vehicles (EVs) provide higher fuel-equivalent efficiency compared to conventional counterparts, which can improve air quality in a region responsible for 70 per cent of global air pollution-related deaths. Many countries in Asia and the Pacific have a substantial share of renewables in the energy mix and low carbon factor of the electricity grid (Figure), making them well-positioned to adopt EVs. In Nepal and Bhutan, hydropower accounts for over 97 per cent of electricity production. However, large amounts of foreign reserves are still spent on importing fossil fuels for transport. A transition to electric mobility can reduce dependency on oil imports, which contributes to exchequer savings on foreign reserves and improves trade deficits and the balance of payments for countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Bar graph showing carbon grid factor 2022


Public transport is considered to be “low-hanging fruit” for EV adoption as it offers the largest emissions mitigation potential. On average, EV buses reduced GHG emissions by 70 per cent compared to using compressed natural gas (CNG) equivalents. Even in countries with low renewable use like Mongolia, EV buses still reduced GHG emissions by 30 per cent. There is also a strong case for accelerating and supporting EV adoption in public transport in Asia and the Pacific because (i) public transport vehicles cover larger distances daily, so replacing them with EVs would lead to significant reductions in GHG emissions; (ii) public transport vehicles emit less GHG on a per passenger basis and (iii) public transport is usually regulated, providing an opportunity for government policy interventions to shape its development.

EVs have experienced significant penetration in Asia and the Pacific, led by China with 6.1 million EV sales in 2022, followed by the Republic of Korea and Japan. China accounts for 95 per cent share of global EV buses. Despite this progress, there is a pressing need to expedite the adoption of electric mobility because numerous obstacles still hinder the widespread adoption of EVs in public transport. In the context of Asia and the Pacific, these barriers typically include substantial upfront costs and investment requirements, limitations in vehicle availability and supply, operational constraints related to fixed routes and timetables, inadequate charging infrastructure and parking facilities, battery management and disposal concerns, availability of renewable energy sources, and the lack of policy support from the government. Therefore, enhancing the capacity of Asia-Pacific countries to develop national policies and strategies and their implementation will accelerate the transition to electric mobility.

As transition to zero emission vehicles will take some time, stringent emissions standards on internal combustion engine vehicles and improvement of operational efficiency could be employed as interim measures of emissions reductions. Governance and coordination issues are  of prime concern, as many organizations have overlapping authority for urban mobility and there are no common EV regulations, codes, and standards (RCS) to ensure a reliable and safe ecosystem for EV products and services. Therefore, multisector collaboration between ministries and stakeholders in transport, energy, manufacturing, and finance, as well as visionary leaders who share the ambition of urban residents, are required to implement a well-coordinated and cost-effective effort, led from the top.

Photo: ESCAP/Madan Regmi

Electric ferry in Bangkok

ESCAP has extended policy support to member countries to develop roadmaps, polices and strategies for transitioning to electric mobility through the electrification of public transport vehicle fleets. This includes capacity-building workshops and national stakeholder consultation meetings organized targeting transport and energy policymakers at national and city levels as well as public transport operators. A national policy framework on EVs was developed for Cambodia in close cooperation with national policy makers that would be considered by an inter-ministerial committee for promoting EVs in Cambodia. Subregional and regional meeting on EVs were organized to create awareness of EV development and share international, regional, subregional and national experiences on transitioning to electric mobility.

ESCAP has developed a series of policy-oriented reports on e-mobility, such as Electric Mobility in Public Transport: A Guidebook for Asia-Pacific Countries, New Energy Vehicle Polices and Promotion, and Case Studies on e-Bus Development in China. The Guidebook would be useful to policy makers for the development of EV roadmaps and national policy frameworks, assessment of charging options, policy goals, and strategies. These reports will help inform interested stakeholders, including governments and policymakers, service providers, public transport and Intermediate Public Transport (IPT) agencies, and vehicle manufacturers, about e-mobility development trends, as well as to share the specific experiences of e-mobility policy and practices from China, where e-mobility has made significant inroads into the public transport sector. 

Image of Public EV charging points in Bangkok

Public EV charging points in Bangkok

ESCAP launched the Asia-Pacific Initiative on Electric Mobility in August 2022 which was supported by the ESCAP Committee on Transport. The Initiative aims to enhance regional cooperation among private and public sector EV stakeholders, strengthen the countries' capacity to formulate national policies and strategies on EVs and develop a knowledge base on electric mobility ecosystem. As of now, several countries and international organizations have joined the Initiative. As part of this Initiative ESCAP is extending policy support to Sri Lanka on electric mobility.

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Madan B. Regmi
Economic Affairs Officer
Fadiah Achmadi
Independent Sustainable Mobility Expert
Jack Gregory Crawford
Intern, Transport Division
Transport +66 2 288-1234 [email protected]