Emissions targets need all-electric cars

Cutting emissions to meet the internationally-agreed limits on global temperature rise will require an end soon to all fossil-fuelled cars.

A new study says that achieving limits on temperature rise agreed at last year’s Paris climate conference will require a massive switch to zero emissions electric-powered vehicles (EVs), coupled with the development of a completely decarbonised power sector.

The transport sector – cars, trucks, planes and trains – accounts for about 14 per cent of total climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. But the study by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific analysis organisation, focuses on the car sector.

“Without swift and extensive deployment of electric vehicles powered by clean electricity, reductions [in emissions] from the transport sector will not be enough to meet the more stringent long-term goals of the Paris Agreement – that is, limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C,” the report says.

Clean electricity

Its analysis shows that limiting the global average temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels would require a doubling in the fuel economy standards of new cars by 2030.

That means that half the world’s cars would have to be powered by clean, completely decarbonised electricity by 2050.

To achieve the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C – seen by most scientists as vital to have any real hope of tackling climate change – CAT says these goals would have to be achieved 10 years earlier than under the 2°C target figure.

Without swift and extensive deployment of electric vehicles powered by clean electricity, reductions [in emissions] from the transport sector will not be enough to meet the more stringent long-term goals of the Paris Agreement – that is, limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C.

Authors, Climate Action Tracker

And this would mean that, given the average 15-year lifetime of a vehicle, the last car powered by petrol or diesel would be sold in 2035.

Whether or not the vehicle manufacturers – and the public – are willing to put the brakes on the internal combustion engine as soon as that is the big question, but there have been some promising developments.

The Dutch parliament recently voted to try to ensure that, by 2025, all cars sold will be zero emissions. And Norway, while denying it plans to ban fossil-fuelled cars, is putting in place policies encouraging greater take-up of EVs.

Recent scandals involving the manipulation of emissions readings and fuel consumption figures by motor manufacturers have resulted in more stringent testing procedures.

The CAT report says a new, harmonised global testing standard for emissions – the worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure (WLTP) − may help prevent discrepancies between laboratory and road emissions readings in the future.

Matched against such developments are a number of factors, including the continued worldwide growth of the vehicle market, much of it based on fossil-fuelled cars.

India was the fastest-growing market for vehicle sales in 2015, with 2.7 million new cars hitting the nation’s roads.

Polluted cities

While EV sales in India are growing – diesel and other vehicle fumes contribute to making the country’s cities among the most polluted in the world – these are minuscule in comparison with the overall vehicle market.

There are other factors standing in the way of achieving an emissions-free vehicle sector, and CAT points out that EVs are still generally more expensive than other cars.

Even in countries where EV sales are high, the infrastructure – such as charging points – is often still inadequate. Also, it is no good encouraging EV use if electricity itself is carbon intensive, as this will lead to higher emissions.

Increasing EV sales, CAT stresses, is no “silver bullet” for the entire transport sector. “For example, in heavy freight transport over long distances, EVs currently offer no feasible alternative to standard trucks − not to mention aviation, maritime transport and train travel, which is still often powered by diesel fuel.”

This story was published with permission from Climate News Network.

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