Switch to electric cars too slow to avert ‘climate catastrophe’, report says

Major automakers and governments have recognized that the future of cars is electric. And with transport accounting for around a quarter of the carbon pollution emitted by humanity, scientists say phasing out petrol and diesel cars is imperative for there to be any hope of avoiding the worst effects. of global warming.

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

“Major automakers, including Toyota, Volkswagen and Hyundai, are moving far too slowly to zero-emission vehicles, with dangerous consequences for our planet,” Benjamin Stephan, climate activist at Greenpeace Germany, said in a statement. . “Toyota, Volkswagen and other major automakers are on a collision course with the climate.”

Researchers have calculated how many new gas guzzlers humanity can afford to put on the roads, assuming global temperatures are on track to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Keeping global warming below that level is key to avoiding catastrophic effects, including melting ice and rising sea levels, scientists say.


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Below that limit, global automakers can build and sell 315 million gasoline-powered cars by 2050, Greenpeace calculated. However, automakers have already planned to produce and sell almost twice that number of gasoline-powered cars, according to the group’s analysis – 645 to 778 million light-duty vehicles over the next 25 years.

The report closely analyzed the declared electrification plans of four automakers that account for 40% of the world’s cars: GM, Hyundai/Kia, Toyota and the Volkswagen Group. Two of them have set dates to phase out fossil fuel cars: GM by 2035 and Kia by 2045.

Toyota and Volkswagen do not have a target date for going all-electric. VW had previously set 2040 as a target, while Toyota’s CEO has resisted the all-electric push, recently saying the transition to electric vehicles will take longer than many think. Toyota did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch.

If Greenpeace’s projections hold true, the amount of carbon pollution created by all those extra cars would be equal to that emitted by all buildings globally, the nonprofit said – a massive overrun that would be difficult countered by reducing carbon emissions elsewhere.

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


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Combustion engine bubble

These vehicles have another possible fate, Greenpeace noted. Cars could be produced but not sold – an outcome that would leave automakers with millions of vehicles that consumers don’t want and companies can’t offload. Automakers “face significant business and financial risks, ranging from loss of market share to all-electric new entrants to stranded assets,” the report said, noting that potential losses could exceed $2 trillion. dollars in the world.

“Therefore, not only auto industry executives, but also bankers and investors should take the risk of a breakout [internal combustion engine] bubble seriously and mitigate it by using their influence to accelerate automakers’ transition to electric vehicles,” they wrote.


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The report sheds light on a sometimes overlooked aspect of the transition to electric vehicles: Gas-powered cars will continue to drive on roads and highways for years after the last one rolls off the assembly line. With the average age of a car now over 12 years, it means that even if automakers electrified over the next few decades, there would still be carbon-emitting cars on the roads long after the middle of this century.

This reality has led some countries and states to set more ambitious goals to phase out gas-powered cars. The UK aims to stop selling new fossil fuel cars by 2030, and California has pledged to do so by 2035. Greenpeace is calling on automakers to follow suit and phase out the gasoline engine by the end of the decade.

“Automakers must stop selling diesel and gasoline vehicles, including hybrids, by 2030 at the latest,” Greenpeace’s Stephan said.

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