January 31, 2023

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Electric cars aren't sustainable — but they could be

Electric cars aren’t sustainable — but they could be

We’re going for 400 million fossil cars, more than the climate can handle. Instead of continuing the leading role of zero-emission cars, Norway is turning off the engine. Now the fight should be about cutting more emissions, not about having to defend what we’ve achieved so far.

If we are to reach the 1.5 degree target, it is necessary to stop production of new fossil fuel-powered cars. This has been confirmed in new reports from both Green area And the International Energy Agency.

Norway’s electric car policy has been a huge success. Ten years ago, electric cars accounted for only three percent of new car sales, now the figure is approaching eighty. Although the Norwegian car fleet is small in the global picture, the investment has had a significant impact on the car industry’s choice to invest more in electric vehicles. Norway took the lead, and now the world is following suit. In the past three years, global new electric vehicle sales have increased from 2.5 percent to nearly 10 percent. The European Union recently decided that by 2035 all new car sales must be fossil-free. This is good, but it is not enough.

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Incentives for discounts at all stages of the value chain

Electric cars are indeed a climate solution, but we have to be honest about the debate. Electric cars are not environmentally friendly enough today. For example, Polestar 2 emits 24.4 tons of carbon dioxide2 for every car in production. This is nearly three times the annual per capita climate footprint in Norway.

In building the cars of the future, we have to work to decarbonize the materials we make a car from and the way we build cars, we have to keep track of hazardous materials, and we have to get better at reusing and recycling materials. Combined with green charging, it can finally unlock the full potential of electric vehicles.

Common global measurement standard and reporting requirements

The benefits of the electric car have shown that it is possible to use policy to accelerate change across an entire industry. Now the same kind of measures can be used to make it more profitable to buy more climate-friendly cars, both in production and on the road.

We need radical industry collaboration. We must ensure transparency about emissions associated with production and common measurement standards for reporting the impacts of carbon dioxide emissions. The EU is already developing such standards, and is proposing that car manufacturers can voluntarily report accordingly by 2025. Norway should contribute here, working to ensure that reporting is not optional, but mandatory for all cars, at least those sold in Norway.

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In order to gain momentum, the public sector itself must take the lead in ordering its car purchases. In the first place, demand transparency about numbers and measurement methods, and ultimately also low emissions from production.

This is not the time to turn off the engine of zero-emission cars and sit back. A sustainable car policy should be about more than just the fuel in cars. Yes, we must replace fossil fuel cars with electric cars globally, but we must also ensure that it is renewable energy that provides electricity for production and as fuel for cars the day they leave the factory. Hence the vehicle’s overall climate footprint must be zero. Only then can we talk about sustainable cars.

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