This month, the EU voted to ban the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles from 2035 onwards; banning their sale within the EU that is… the act does not ban the manufacture of ICE vehicles, nor does it ban the sale of second-hand ICE vehicles – it basically just bans the sale of new vehicles within the EU.
“Even so” you might say – since 72% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions come from road transport (of which 60% comes from cars), moving to electric vehicles will surely reduce this by a substantial figure over time… and indeed, some projections indicate that the number of ICE vehicles on the road will be pretty much zero by 2050… sounds great doesn’t it? Provided of course that the non-ICE cars are ecologically friendly…
And herein lies a problem, the EU regulations indicate that cars produced today must produce no more than 95g CO² per km, although in 2019 the average was 122g per km. Given an average of 10,000km per year then, an average car will produce around 1 – 1.2 tonnes of CO² per year. Seems like quite an amount, until you consider that the cost of producing a new car ranges from 6 – 35 tonnes of CO² – which equates to somewhere between 4 and 30 years of emissions. In addition to which, this law doesn’t seem to prevent the manufacture and export of ICE vehicles, or the purchase of second-hand imported ICE vehicles. Even if you double the emissions from use of the car the CO² cost of producing a car is still between 2 and 15 years of operational use.
Alongside this is the consideration that the production cost of the batteries needed for an electric vehicle are also subject to a carbon footprint (due in part to the rare earth minerals needed to create them) which can range from 4 – 7.5 tonnes of CO² just in of itself.
Another important part of this calculation is the production of the electricity itself for the electric cars… consumption varies per car, however there seems to be a consensus that a car uses somewhere around 0.20kwh per kilometre travelled. At the rate of 10,000km per annum used above, this would mean that an electric car would consume 2,000 kwh per year. In terms of CO² emissions the trend in Europe for electricity production is on the decline – but levels still remain on average at just over 200g per kwh – equivalent to 40g per km.
At the lowest calculation, (the smallest cars with the lowest mileage) the difference between the two is minimal when the cost of production is factored in (2 tonnes over 10 years). The real advantages come when we use the highest calculation point – the largest cars and the greatest mileage… which begs the question, why aren’t we looking at limiting production costs and mileage as well..? If the production costs of the large luxury vehicles are equivalent to 25 years of running costs (25 YEARS!!!) then think of the quick win that could be made by banning the production of those first.
Action is good, and this decision by the European Parliament sends a positive message to the world about the desire and the need to combat emissions. It also falls short of what is needed yet again… it fails to address the production costs of vehicles (both electric and ICE), nor the associated pollution derived from a culture which encourages us all to continually travel and drive everywhere.
Furthermore, failing to ban the production itself of ICE vehicles means that manufacturers are still at liberty to manufacture ICE vehicles in the EU and export them elsewhere. This would be like the United States of America maintaining their ban on the domestic use of cocaine, but legalising its production and export to other countries. But of course… it helps keep the economy ticking over…
If we really want to take action towards reducing the damage that humans are doing to the planet, then governments need to start making manufacturers responsible for the damage that their products do to the environment. The cost of production should include the funds needed to re-establish ecological balance. If car production emits 35 tonnes of CO², then the cost of sale needs to account for both that cost and the costs involved in the breaking down and recycling of the vehicle when it reaches its end of life. The same should be true for all goods imported into the EU, maybe then we will finally realise what our continued consumption of goods costs the planet.
We need to change our thinking, we need to recognise that we cannot continue to take from the planet without giving back or allowing nature time to recover. The problem we have is not limited to the types of car that we drive – this assumes that driving itself need not be questioned.
I write all of this as someone who is totally culpable in this cycle, I drive a large people-carrier type vehicle, and not only that, it is a lease which is replaced every 4 years by a brand new vehicle… and I am conscious of the need for me to take a personal responsibility in this also; I cannot pass it all off to the governments and manufacturers.