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A new study debunks the familiar argument that electric vehicles aren't any cleaner than gasoline-powered automobiles. According to the study, an electric vehicle emits fewer greenhouse gases over its lifetime than a gas-powered vehicle, from digging up the resources needed to make it to the end of the car’s lifespan. That is true whether an EV connects to a grid in Europe with a higher proportion of renewables or a grid in India that is still primarily reliant on coal.
This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. The climatic problem is being driven by fossil fuels. As a result, governments across the globe have suggested phasing out internal combustion engines by 2035, from California to the European Union. However, some argue that electric vehicles are only as clean as the grids they run on, and that fossil fuels still dominate the energy mix in most regions.
“We have a lot of lobby work from parts of the automotive industry saying that electric vehicles are not that much better if you take into account the electricity production and the battery production. We wanted to look into this and see whether these arguments are true.” This comes from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) that published the report.
The analysis calculates the emissions from medium-sized electric vehicles registered in 2021 in India, China, the United States, or Europe – countries that account for 70% of worldwide new car sales and are typical of other markets throughout the world.
According to the study, lifetime emissions for an electric vehicle in Europe are between 66 and 69 percent lower than for a gas-guzzling vehicle. In the United States, an electric vehicle emits 60 to 68 percent fewer pollutants. In China, where coal is used more, an EV reduces emissions by 37 to 45 percent. It is between 19 and 34 percent lower in India.
It's worth noting that the study assumes the vehicle was registered in 2021 and will be on the road for approximately 18 years. By examining the energy mix under current policy as well as forecasts from the International Energy Agency for what the future electricity mix will look like as climate policies develop, the study authors were able to come up with a range of potential emissions reductions for each region. However, predicting how much the world's energy infrastructure will alter is tricky. In the United States, for example, President Joe Biden has set a target of achieving 100% sustainable electricity by 2035, but he still needs to implement the necessary regulations.
The analysis also ignores non-climate-related environmental consequences such as mining and waste that may occur during the construction of the cars.
Producing an electric vehicle is still slightly more carbon-intensive than building a conventional vehicle. Recycling electric vehicle batteries may help to reduce carbon emissions in the future. For the time being, however, EV drivers begin to realise the environmental benefits after a year or two of driving their vehicle.
That's when the car reaches the point where the emissions it saves by running on cleaner electricity make it a better choice for the environment than a conventional car.
The ICCT’s findings will help policymakers make more informed decisions about the future of transportation. Climate experts are rushing to bring global greenhouse gas emissions down to near zero by the middle of the century to avoid the worst effects of global warming. Electric vehicles are necessary to make those cuts happen, and even hybrid-electric vehicles aren’t clean enough to meet that goal.
The conclusions of the ICCT will aid policymakers in making better judgments about the future of transportation. To avert the worst effects of global warming, climate researchers are racing to reduce global gas emissions to near zero by the middle of the century. Electric vehicles are required to achieve those reductions, and even hybrid-electric vehicles are insufficiently clean to achieve that target.
Any vehicle powered by a combustion engine is incapable of delivering the gas reductions required to cope with climate change. This proves we must phase out combustion engine cars globally.