Sheer numbers may defeat push for cleaner cars

PARIS • As United Nations (UN) climate conferees meet, the head of the electric car programme at French carmaker Renault, Mr Eric Feunteun, wishes everyone could agree: If the world is going to curb climate change, there is no choice but to stop driving cars that burn fossil fuels.

"If we want affordable, practical and fully green technology," Mr Feunteun said, "the electric vehicle is the answer at this stage".

For all his optimism, climate conference delegates confront a sobering fact: The number of cars on the world's roads is set to double - to more than two billion - by 2030.

Given the limitations of electric cars so far, including their range between charges, many experts predict that most of the billion additional cars will have combustion engines that spew greenhouse gases.

The UN conference will not deal directly with cars or with what countries should do about them or other major sources of carbon emissions. Rather, it is meant to get countries to commit to reducing their carbon footprints, leaving the details about how to achieve their goals to each individual nation.

But virtually everyone who studies the issue understands that transportation, which is still 95 per cent reliant on petroleum, is the world's fastest-growing energy-based contributor to greenhouse gases. About three-quarters of the total comes from motor vehicles.

Few disagree that the best solutions include the adoption of electric vehicles and, especially in cities, making it easier for people to forgo cars by using public transportation or riding bicycles.

But Mr Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, an environmental group based in Washington, points out that electric vehicles are only as environmentally friendly as the electricity that recharges them. China, though it is rapidly adopting nuclear power plants, is still heavily reliant on coal-fired electrical plants.

And India, where the biggest growth in automobile ownership is expected to occur as the country industrialises and its population surpasses China's by 2030, might actually increase its reliance on coal-fired electrical power plants between now and then.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'Sheer numbers may defeat push for cleaner cars'. Subscribe