Worldwide cities pledge to combat air pollution by electrifying transport

Publish date: May 15, 2017

Cities around the world are facing a crisis as cars are suffocating the streets, creating congestion and contributing to health-threatening levels of air pollution. According to the World Health Organisation, around three million deaths every year are linked to outdoor air pollution exposure world-wide, most which is emitted as exhaust from cars. In Europe alone, 467 000 premature deaths have been linked to air pollution, leading to its labelling as ‘the biggest killer on the continent’.

Cities are now increasingly looking to discourage the domination of fossil fuelled cars, which has been observed through the doubling down on policies and initiatives to promote car-free and low-emission zones, and the banning of diesel vehicles. While some cities have opted for pricing schemes that either charge commuters for driving at peak times or in congested urban areas or fine drivers of highly polluting  cars others choose to restrict driving by license plate numbers, in attempt to reduce harmful spikes in nitrogen dioxide or as a more long-term effort to combat declining air quality[1].

One effective tool to tackle air pollution in urban areas is the transition to electro-mobility, starting from the vehicles which are necessary in the everyday running and operations of cities, such as taxies, buses, postal services and delivery- and garbage trucks. In London, the iconic black cabs are set to go green, as the capital attempts to clean up its dirty air[2]. From 1 January 2018 all new taxis will have to be battery powered electric models, as the city attempts to phase out diesel engines. On the other hand, Amsterdam is opting for a fully electric bus fleet within 2025, and its airport, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, recently pledged to become the world’s most sustainable airport. To achieve this, the airport will be electrifying all vehicles operating on the airport itself, as well as all passenger and public transport operating to- and from its facilities[3].

Further away, China has been pushing to move towards an electrified transport fleet over the last years, and the country had more than 1 million EVs in 2016, a significant 87 percent increase from the previous year[4]. Another major world emitter, India, pledges to tackle serious air pollution issues in major cities such as Delhi.  As many as 2.3 million deaths occur every year due to air pollution in the country[5]. Every car sold in India will be powered by electricity by the year 2030, according to plans recently unveiled by the country’s energy minister.

Ensuring a sustainable and smooth transition towards electro-mobility in Europe

Some of the key EU legislative processes on electro mobility in 2017 Credit: Bellona Europa

While the shift towards electro-mobility is slowly picking up pace in Europe; it is crucial to equip the continent for this transition. 2017 offers important opportunities to accelerate this transition with a number of EU legislative processes currently underway. When it comes to electric recharging infrastructure, two examples include the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure – and the Energy Performance in Buildings directives, which if properly designed and implemented could contribute to the rollout of infrastructure in the public and private domains. Electro-mobility is integral part of emerging smart homes and smart cities, and should be accounted for when constructing new buildings in Europe, making sure the infrastructure will be able to meet future demand, with increasing electric vehicle market share.

The number of EVs on the road is only the tip of the iceberg. Needless to say, it is equally important that the electricity that powers the increasing share of EVs comes from clean, renewable sources. The currently ongoing reform of the Renewable Energy Directive will play a key role in shaping the direction of this development.







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