The undying popularity of sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) has made them the second-biggest contributor to the growth of global carbon-dioxide emissions in recent years, just behind the power sector, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.
"In 2010, 18 per cent of all car sales in the world were SUVs. Last year, more than 40 per cent of all cars sold in the world were SUVs," Mr Fatih Birol told an electric energy conference in Paris on Wednesday.
Demand for the fuel-guzzling vehicles is soaring in the United States and Europe as well as in China, India and other developing countries, where they are particularly prized as status symbols, according to an IEA report released this week.
Despite often having four-wheel drive, SUVs are mainly used by urban drivers.
SUVs spewed about 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from 2010 to last year, nearly half the amount produced by the power sector, the IEA report said.
They surpassed emissions from heavy industry such as iron or steel production and far outstripped carbon dioxide from trucks, aviation or shipping - other high-polluting transportation means under fire by climate activists.
Mr Birol warned that even the shift from internal-combustion engines to electric vehicles would hardly make a dent in the auto industry's emissions.
"Electric cars are going strong. Today, there are about six million electric cars in the world," he told the conference.
"But does it mean decarbonisation? Absolutely not," he said, noting that half of the cars are in China, which gets two-thirds of its electricity from coal-fired power plants.
The IEA report noted that if SUV demand continued at current rates, they would add nearly two million barrels to global daily oil demand by 2040, "offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars".
Mr Birol said: "Electric cars are not a panacea. The prerequisite is decarbonisation of the power system."