Transport policies of today should reflect technologies of tomorrow: Is Europe falling behind?

Publish date: August 1, 2017

While some may confuse major European countries’ recent announcements to ban sales of new fossil cars by 2040 with ‘ambition’, in reality these are, at best, mere minimum actions needed to ensure compliance with EU laws. If the EU is to reach its objective of reducing CO2 emissions from road transport by 60% and completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels in cars by 2050, member countries will need to come up with much more ambitious targets to stir the needed rapid transition towards zero emission vehicles and keep our planet liveable.

EU countries clearly need to show more ambition when it comes to tackling emissions from transport; failure to do so risks coming in the way of EU climate objectives as well as the 1.5 degree targeted under the Paris Agreement.

EU failing to live up to its reputation as leader in climate action

To put this into perspective, India has overtaken its imperial masters when it comes to climate ambition with its recently announced plan to only sell zero emission, electric vehicles, as of 2030. Further to the East, the Chinese government has announced plans for a new law that will require car makers to meet electric vehicle (EV) sales quotas of 8% by 2018, 10% by 2019 and 12% by 2020.

The shift towards electric vehicles is no longer merely a futuristic concept; it is rather a rapidly spreading reality. In fact going electric is no longer just a smart marketing strategy, it is making economic sense. Most car making companies today offer electric models and are unveiling further commitments, such as Volvo recently pledging to completely phase out the production of fossil vehicles by 2019, on grounds of NOx emission reductions becoming excessively costly.

This, coupled with ongoing scandals of major German car making companies cheating on their emissions testing and ever growing awareness of health-damaging consequences of exhaust emissions-related air pollution, is only a downward spiral for the fossil fuel car industry.

Need for future-proof transport policies, reflecting rapid technological developments

Going electric does not only make economic sense for the auto industry; consumers too are starting to see EV ownership as a ‘cost saving’ option. Thanks to rapidly falling battery prices many studies expect that within the next 8 years EVs will, even in the absence of state subsidies, reach price parity with their conventional ICE counterparts. As a result of these developments, a recent study by Dutch bank ING predicts that EVs will account for all new car sales in Europe by as early as 2035.

When it comes to batteries, European industry is likely to miss out in the coming electric revolution, with Asian and American competitors taking a clear lead when it comes to investments in battery and energy storage technologies. As Europe starts to lose its competitive advantage in ICE engines, it will need to boost its locally manufactured battery and EV industry. Failure to catch up could cost EU industry its competitiveness and viability.

press-mob-tesla-640x480 Frederic Hauge arriving in Murmansk in 2014, after completing a 2 000 km long journey from Oslo in Tesla Model S Credit: Nils Bøhmer/Bellona

Charging infrastructure technologies: core pre-condition for EV uptake 

One of the most crucial elements to enable a rapid phase out of fossil fuelled cars and at the same time a smooth transition towards electro mobility is the rollout of an adequate electric charging infrastructure, both in the public and private domains.

Electric infrastructure is mushrooming across continents, such as most recently in Queensland, Australia, where fast charging stations capable of recharging an EV within 30 minutes will be deployed across a network of 2,000 km.

The feasibility of long distance electric journeys has already been proven in many countries. In Norway, Bellona’s President Frederic Hauge demonstrated EVs’ technological ripeness by driving 2,000 km in an EV from Oslo to Murmansk in Russia already in 2014.

In June this year, Bellona provided the first EV charger in the Russian arctic capital of Murmansk, which can charge two electric or hybrid cars at once at no cost.

The rapid pace of EV and battery technology development, coupled with the expansion of infrastructure, needs to be taken into account and reflected in today’s transport policies. If Europe is to continue ‘leading by example’ we would need to see strengthened ambition when it comes to phasing out of fossil cars, and the transition to electric mobility.


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