Progress Towards a Zero-Emission Future - Are We on Track?

Posted by: Lydia on 19/03/2021

Category: General

Car driving on highway through lush green landscape

It’s no secret that many motorists in 2021 feel a tension between the cars they love and their consciousness of climate change. Of course, climate change is a complex issue, but the cold hard facts confirm that the days of the petrol-powered engine must come to an end sooner rather than later for the auto industry to become eco-friendly. The progress towards a zero-emission future won’t happen overnight, but it must happen.

This decade is set to deliver a number of truly decisive changes to the global car industry. The mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and the release of self-driving cars (SDCs), along with the phasing out of combustion engines, will drive a number of huge transformations in how we use our cars. Now is a good time to consider how well the global auto industry is going in becoming a zero-emission operation. 

The Upcoming Phase Out 

By many measures, the European Union is leading the charge towards a zero-emission future.

By 2030, it seeks to have 30 million EVs on its roads. But this aim is being accompanied by a desire to cement the goal into law. As of March 2021, there are nine nations in the EU supporting a move to ban new petrol and diesel vehicles. Although a date is yet to be set, if this ban comes into effect across the whole EU, it would be the largest of its kind to date. 

In the meantime, a number of European car manufacturers — including Volvo, Jaguar, and Ford of Europe — have announced they will be shifting to an all-electric range by 2030, as has Bentley in the UK. Elsewhere, in September 2020, the Californian government mandated that all vehicles sold in the state by 2035 be zero-emission. 

On the East Coast, the state of New Jersey has pursued a similar policy. Then in Asia, major nations like India and Japan have previously made strides to move away from petrol-powered vehicles by 2030 and 2035, respectively. There’s no question that these targets are commendable, but successfully meeting them — and seeing them mirrored across the whole world — could be far harder. 

The Current Cost Problem With an Emission-Free Future 

Although the push towards a petrol-free car industry is well underway, the reality is that it appears very unlikely to be a straight route, for a number of different reasons. First and foremost is the affordability of many petrol-powered cars compared to EVs, both in terms of initial purchase and — in certain circumstances — ongoing costs. For EVs to become the vehicle of the masses globally, costs need to come down.

Theoretically, an EV owner could easily offset the cost of their fuel source by having a charging station at home with solar panels on the roof. But the capacity to drop thousands of dollars on a rooftop solar system (as well as get permission to do so if they don't own their home) is restrictive to many. 

It’s also necessary to take into account the global dynamics here that inform demand. While in affluent nations like Australia there’s both the desire and financial capacity among many citizens to take up eco-friendly technology, elsewhere in the world the picture is more complicated. 

The Challenge With a Truly Global Push 

It is expected — even after the rollout of a nationwide vaccine programme in Australia and/or eradication has occurred — that the economic legacy of Covid-19 will continue for many years yet. This is an important consideration, as governments across the world know that now is an especially tough time to be putting an end to industries if it means jobs are not available elsewhere for workers. 

It’s held that if the Australian government spent just 10% of what they said they would on the pandemic response, 160,000 new green jobs could be created. Even if the government does not ultimately do this, it shows they have a path to grow the industry in future. Unfortunately, other nations may have a far harder time, and this is why the move from petrol-power to green energy in the global auto industry could be messy in the next few years.

What of Developing Nations in Africa and Asia?

Rapidly growing nations across the wider Asian region and Africa have huge populations and a central goal in mind to keep growing the middle class. Many people in such nations have not yet had the chance to even own a car of their own, but when they're able to, it’s unlikely that they'll be top-of-the-line EVs.

Advancement in tech generally allows for prices to come down, so there’s no doubt that we’ll soon see more affordable EVs come out. That said, it’s literally a race against time when seeking to ensure that the wind down of petrol-powered sales in nations like Australia isn’t made a moot point by a greater increase in petrol-powered sales elsewhere. Regardless of whether these sales are new or used, if the end result is more petrol-powered vehicles on our road, that’s a setback in the quest for zero emissions. 

Fueling Progress Towards Zero Emissions

The push towards a zero-emission future has some strong momentum behind it, but it also has some substantial challenges. It’s one thing to ban the sale of petrol vehicles, but another to rapidly get them off the roads around the world. Ultimately, seeing strong momentum in the shift towards a zero-emission future in this decade will not rely on the decrease of petrol-powered sales alone.

Instead, it’ll also depend on the rise of EVs, and even the SDC. In order for these technologies to grow their market share, a number of issues such as high EV purchase costs and a lack of necessary resources (such as EV charging stations) must be addressed. Fortunately though, even if progress isn’t as swift or straightforward as many would desire, we are indeed moving in the right direction towards a zero-emission future in the global auto industry. We’re not there yet — but we’re certainly on the road to it. 

What’s your take on the global auto industry’s progress to a zero-emission future? Let us know the comments below.

Image: Pixabay