Boris Johnson’s Climate Doomsday Devices Ride on Four Wheels
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Picture James Bond strapped to a doomsday device while a countdown clock ticks toward zero. That’s the situation the Earth faces when it comes to climate change, according to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“The tragedy is that this is not a movie and the doomsday device is real,” Johnson said Monday in Glasgow at the 26th COP climate conference, the annual meeting that’s supposed to set out plans to rein in global warming.
The transport sector is a big part of the problem. It accounts for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and will face special scrutiny at COP26 because of how much it pollutes. The European Union in July proposed that member states stop selling combustion cars no later than 2035 as the region tries to cut transport emissions that have climbed by a third since 1990.
The auto industry may well be phasing out the internal combustion engine and EV sales are taking off, but that doesn’t mean the path to zero-emission driving will be easy. There are a few key roadblocks holding up progress that are likely to come up at the conference over the coming days:
Building an EV emits significantly more carbon dioxide than producing combustion models, researchers have found. That’s mainly because EVs are made with a resource-intensive battery and greater amounts of aluminum. Battery metals including lithium, cobalt and nickel are mined in Australia, South America and Africa and then shipped around the world for refining, resulting in massive carbon emissions. Carmakers are acutely aware of the issue’s potential to cause PR problems and have started exploring alternative sourcing methods, but the projects are still in their infancy.
While EVs are dirtier than regular cars coming out of the factory, they’re supposed to make up for that big time during their driving years because they have no tailpipe emissions. Another factor in this equation, though, is the juice that powers the battery. The problem is that the world still produces electricity mostly from fossil-fired sources, with coal and natural gas accounting for almost 60% of the global power mix in 2020, according to International Energy Agency data. In China, where EV sales are surging, coal — the dirtiest fossil fuel — remains the dominant electricity source by far.
Numerous people I know are open to buying an EV but are put off by what they perceive as sub-par charging convenience. A Sky News colleague driving an electric SUV from London to the COP venue in Glasgow struggled with some patchy charging infrastructure along the way. Carmakers and politicians have identified a lack of charging spots as a key hurdle to wider EV adoption. In China, where EV adoption is outpacing infrastructure upgrades, the issues may well fuel buyer’s remorse after drivers there had to queue for hours to recharge their vehicle during last month’s Golden Week holiday. Europe has billions of euros earmarked for more charging spots, but especially in larger cities — where people tend to live in apartment buildings instead of free-standing homes — coming up with convenient charging options will remain a challenge.
While passenger cars are fairly well on their way toward electrification, trucks are still far off from meeting the EU’s net-zero climate target for 2050, according to a new report from Transport & Environment. The Brussels-based NGO says the EU’s CO2 emission standards for trucks, introduced in 2019, should be tightened because they lack the ambition to spur real change. Almost 98% of the roughly 170,000 trucks and vans registered in Europe between July 2019 and June 2020 had a diesel engine, according to the report.
“The European Commission is addressing car emissions with plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars, yet it is still miles away from bringing trucking in line with its Green Deal ambition,” said Lucien Mathieu, acting director for freight at T&E. “With trade rebounding, now is the time to raise the ambition for truck emissions targets.”
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