Science

Switching to electric cars going too slow to survive

Major automakers and governments have recognized that the future of cars is electric. And with transportation accounting for nearly a quarter of the carbon pollution emitted by humanity, scientists say it is imperative to phase out gas- and diesel-powered cars in order to have any hope of avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

But according to a report released by Greenpeace this week, the shift away from fossil fuel-burning cars is happening too slowly to avert climate catastrophe.

“Major automakers, including Toyota, Volkswagen and Hyundai, are making the transition to zero-emissions vehicles too slowly, with dangerous consequences for our planet,” Benjamin Steffen, climate campaigner for Greenpeace Germany, said in a statement. “Toyota, Volkswagen and other major automakers are on a collision course with the climate.”

The researchers calculated how many new gas-passing humanity could put on the roads, assuming that global temperatures are on track to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Scientists say keeping global warming below that level is essential to avoid catastrophic effects, including melting ice and rising sea levels.


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Greenpeace has calculated that under that limit, the world’s carmakers could manufacture and sell 315 million gas-burning cars between now and 2050. However, carmakers already plan to produce and sell nearly double the number of gas-burning cars, the group’s analysis found – from 645 million to 778 million light-duty vehicles over the next 25 years.

The report closely analyzed the announced electrification plans of four automakers, which make up 40% of the world’s cars: GM, Hyundai/Kia, Toyota and Volkswagen Group. Two of them have set dates for eliminating fossil fueled cars: GM by 2035 and Kia by 2045.

Toyota and Volkswagen have no target date for going all-electric. VW had previously set 2040 as its target, while Toyota’s CEO opposed the all-electric push, recently saying the EV transition would take longer than many believed. Toyota did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBS Moneywatch.

If Greenpeace’s projections play out, the amount of carbon pollution created by all those extra cars would be equal to the carbon pollution emitted by all buildings globally, the nonprofit said — a massive overshoot that could lead to carbon emissions elsewhere. Combatting by reducing emissions will be difficult.

The authors of the report come from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, Center of Automotive Management, University of Applied Sciences (FHDW) Bergisch Gladbach and Greenpeace Germany.


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combustion engine bubble

Greenpeace notes that those vehicles have another possible fate. Cars can be produced but not sold – an outcome that will leave car makers with millions of vehicles that consumers don’t want and companies can’t offload. Carmakers face “considerable business and financial risks, ranging from loss of market share to new all-electric entrants to stranded assets,” the report said, adding that the potential damages could be incurred globally. Could be above $2 trillion.

“Therefore, not only auto industry executives but also bankers and investors should take the risk of bursting [internal combustion engine] Take the bubble seriously and reduce it by using your influence to accelerate the transition of auto manufacturers to electric vehicles,” he wrote.


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The report sheds light on a sometimes-forgotten aspect of the EV transition: Gas-burning cars will continue to ply on roads and highways for years before the last time it rolled off the assembly line. The average age of a car now exceeds 12 years, which means that even if automakers electrify within the next few decades, there will still be carbon-emitting cars on the roads in the middle of this century.

That reality has prompted some countries and states to set more ambitious targets to phase out gas cars. The UK aims to stop selling new fossil-fuel cars by 2030, and california has resolved to do so by 2035. Greenpeace is calling on car manufacturers to follow suit and eliminate gas-burning engines by the end of this decade.

“Car companies are required to stop selling diesel and petrol vehicles, including hybrids, by 2030 at the latest,” Greenpeace’s Stephen said.

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