Electric cars likely to lead to more CO2 because of EU legal loopholes

Electric cars can play a role in cutting Europe’s carbon emissions but current EU legislation contains loopholes that are likely to lead to emissions and oil use going up, according to a new report published today by Transport & Environment.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called in September for transport to be ‘decarbonised’, highlighting the development of electric cars as a key aim. (1)

Binding EU targets for car CO2 emissions agreed last December include ‘supercredits’ that enable carmakers to sell up to 3.5 gas-guzzling SUVs for every electric vehicle they sell and still reach their official EU target. Electric cars are also counted as ‘zero emissions’ despite the fact that the electricity they use can come from high-carbon fossil fuels such as coal. (2)

The combined effect of these loopholes would be that carmakers who choose to market electric cars to meet EU targets, would have to do less to reduce emissions of conventional cars. The overall effect would be higher CO2 emissions and oil use.

Supercredits are also included in legislation proposed last month to improve the CO2 emissions of vans.

Transport & Environment is calling for current and future loopholes to be dropped and CO2 / fuel efficiency standards to be tightened further.

The report argues that industry and policymakers have relied in the past on distant ‘dream’ technologies to solve environmental problems rather than setting targets for CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency. Hydrogen, biofuels, and earlier interest in electric cars all came to nothing for different reasons but what they have in common is that they all distracted policymakers from forcing carmakers to improve fuel efficiency across the board.

Jos Dings, director of Transport & Environment said: “The game for policymakers is cutting emissions and reducing our dependence on oil, not promoting electric cars. The EU must not take its eye off the ball again, and get distracted by technological hype. For electric cars to be a success for the environment, and for the industry, pressure on fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions for all cars must be kept up. Promoting electric cars without maintaining pressure on fuel efficiency standards, will kill any chance of success.”

The report also examines the implications of electric cars for the power sector. It argues that the EU needs to think hard about how it will ensure that the extra demand for electricity is met through renewable electricity and not more dirty coal. It notes that every car will need to be fitted with ‘smart meter’ technology to measure how much electricity is being consumed, and where that electricity came from.

Download the report .

(1) See Reuters news article.

(2) Supercredits will be phased out in 2016, but electric cars will remain counted as zero-emissions. Supercredits are also included in a proposal for van CO2 emissions announced in October.