Oct 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

It takes a village to decarbonize car travel

Illustration of a car on a kitchen scale, the scale reads 0 lbs. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Electric cars get lots of attention but an analysis provides sobering numbers that show why EVs are not, as the authors say, a "silver bullet" for wringing emissions out of passenger travel.

Why it matters: The paper in Nature Climate Change arrives as officials in California, the country's largest auto market, are pledging aggressive regulations to ramp up EV sales.

How it works: The paper models a long-term CO2 "budget" for U.S. light-duty vehicles that represents that sector's contribution to an emissions pathway consistent with holding temperature rise to 2°C above preindustrial levels.

Threat level: Current policies are nowhere close to putting passenger vehicle emissions on track to meet that budget, it concludes.

  • Using EVs alone to right the ship would be daunting, to say the least. Sales are growing, but right now they're about a percent of the total vehicles on U.S. roads.
  • Closing the sector's CO2 "mitigation gap" with EVs alone would require 90% of the U.S. fleet to be electric by 2050, they find.
  • The authors note that this exceeds even optimistic projections and would mean more than 350 million EVs on the roads in 2050.

The bottom line: The paper concludes that a "wide range" of policies is needed to slash vehicle emissions, including electrification but also very stringent efficiency standards, better mass transit and more.

Go deeper: Ninety Percent of U.S. Cars Must Be Electric by 2050 to Meet Climate Goals (E&E News)

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