Originally published in Green World 91
Having too many cars on our roads doesn't truly benefit the planet and it doesn't serve people or places either. Phasing out diesel and introducing more electric cars can both play their part in addressing pollution and climate concerns, but we mustn't let cars, trucks and vans rule life in our cities.
I recently addressed the Climate Parliament Roundtable on Green Growth in Paris. The parliament consists of international experts and legislators from around the world with a particular interest in leveraging global legislation to support the transition to greener economies. Urban mobility was the topic in question. So, are electric vehicles a green solution for urban environments?
When it comes to climate change, transport is responsible for a whopping 24 per cent of all CO2 emissions in the EU, and almost 30 per cent more than in 1990. To change that we certainly need to cut emissions across all modes of transport. Emissions from aviation and shipping, which contribute almost eight per cent of global warming are projected to increase by up to 250 per cent by 2050, if no action is taken. I am very disappointed that the UN climate deal reached at COP21 omitted all shipping and aviation emissions.
Electric vehicles are certainly having their moment in the sun, increasing in popularity and coming down in price. Public interest has never been greater.
In the UK, the EU's largest market for electric vehicles, a total of 9,046 ultra low emission vehicles were registered in the first quarter of 2015 - a rise of 366 per cent from the same period in 2014. What's more, a recent government report found that 90 per cent of owners would recommend electric vehicles to others. It's growth from a very small base, but it's growth nonetheless.
There are now more than 9,000 public charging points for electric cars in the UK; with London offering 1,656 (18 per cent) of the national total and the rest of the South East 1,407 (15 per cent). The limits on driving range, which were a concern for early adopters of electric cars, are now being countered by the rollout of viable charging networks.
All the major automotive producers are now investing in electric and hybrid vehicles as the future of their industry.
They are also marketing electric cars on their environmental credentials. UK car buyers still rate the cost of fuel as their main motivation to go electric. But what's heartening is more than 40 per cent also say the environment was a factor; 17 per cent cite climate change; and nine per cent are concerned with pollution. But it could be a mistake to think electric vehicles are the entire answer to all our transport problems. Replacing diesel cars with electric ones won't get you home any faster on our congested roads.
The Greens in Europe are a little hesitant to describe electric cars as sustainable. And here's why:
- Electric vehicles MUST run on 100 per cent clean power, from sources like hydro or solar. If the electricity comes from burning dirty fossil fuels, we're just outsourcing our air pollution and CO2 problems to somewhere else. The widespread availability of clean energy for people charging their cars needs urgent attention and investment.
- The whole lifecycle cost of electric vehicles needs to be looked at in much more detail. Batteries are notoriously difficult to dispose of responsibly. We need more information on efficient, socially and environmentally responsible ways manufacturers will recycle or reuse the constituent parts of these vehicles at their end of life.
- People, places and the environment must be central to decisions on transport policy, not cars and certainly not manufacturers. Electric cable cars and trams need more attention from city planners, too.
- With obesity and stress levels soaring, we need to look at long- term health, safety and wellbeing of people in cities and how transport decisions can improve the daily lives of ordinary people. More work is needed on how to design and transform our urban landscapes so that they become places where people actually want to live, work, learn, exercise and relax.
Investment in promoting walking, cycling and bringing down the cost of public transport in city planning must be at the forefront. In the end, a truly green, clean and sustainable transport policy could mean all vehicles - electric or otherwise - have to take more of a back seat.