The mobility transition, which is unprecedented and already upon us, will have a tremendous impact on both jobs and consumers. The way in which we move people and goods will require a decisive shift towards carbon-neutral mobility. Electrification, in all of its forms, is a big part of the way forward, but a 100% reduction at the tailpipe as proposed in the European Commission’s CO2 standards for cars and vans effectively excludes existing synergies and parallel solutions that can and should play a role in a green AND just transition. Three Parliamentary Committees are currently rightly reviewing the high interests at stake.
in CLEPA, by Sigrid de Vries, 27-04-2022
Promoting sustainable consumerism through Life-Cycle Assessment
Having choices gives people more control over what they buy, allows for more competitive prices, and the greater the likelihood of finding what fits their needs. To help consumers make informed and sustainable vehicle purchases, EU countries are required to ensure that relevant information is provided, including a label showing a car’s fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions. Currently this label only assesses the emissions coming from the vehicle’s tailpipe. Meaning, it doesn’t look at the carbon footprint holistically – from cradle to grave. This gives consumers a false sense of security that their car can be entirely emissions free.
People deserve to know the actual carbon footprint of their vehicle to make the best informed decisions. Only through a life-cycle assessment (LCA) can you know how green your car truly is. All process and flows of resources and energy associated with production, usage and recycling must be considered. This is important in order to balance all technology options, given that most of the emissions from conventional vehicles come from the use phase, where for EVs for example, the production phase on average accounts for a larger share of total emissions.
Just last week, Green NCAP announced its first LCA results, examining the full environmental impact of some of Europe’s most popular cars in order to help car buyers make more sustainable choices. This is certainly a step in the right direction and sets the stage for the first long-term and harmonised vehicle LCA platform for the European market.
Further, the recently issued IPCC Climate Report confirms the necessity to act against climate change. It identifies electric vehicles as the most efficient way forward. However, the report also mentions that electrifying transport will require continued investment in supporting infrastructure to scale up deployment. It recognises that the mobility sector encompasses needs and technologies that are very diverse. For this reason, the IPCC takes into consideration the role that alternative fuels can play alongside electrification in decarbonising road mobility, especially in hard to abate segments, but not only. The report, therefore, recommends adopting an LCA approach to determine CO2 emissions along the entire value chain, and not just at the tailpipe.
Affordable mobility a thing of the past?
The EV transition is well underway, and it makes sense that the shift would be easier for premium car manufacturers who serve a market segment that can afford to be early adopters. The announcement that Volkswagen wants to move into the luxury segment could be considered a proof-in-point. Electrification is increasingly seen as the way forward for OEMs, especially in Europe, but the cost of building them is having an impact on the availability of affordable small and medium-sized cars.
Strong criticism on the cost of EV production and the current policy approach has come from the Stellantis Group’s president, Carlos Tavares, who argues that electrification is a political choice which drives up vehicle costs, and leaves aside cheaper and faster ways of reducing carbon emissions. The electrification race in Europe is also positioning foreign manufacturers, historically weak in Europe, to gain market share thanks to their affordable price points.
Reaching cost parity is also linked to many other uncertainties, such as energy prices, and new import dependencies in raw materials and battery cells. In the past days, German MEP Ismail Ertug warned against the danger of continuing to build interdependences with non-democratic countries, as recently seen in Russia with energy imports.
A technology ban risks over half a million auto supplier jobs in the powertrain segment alone until 2040. It also risks affordable mobility and limits consumer choice. A technology open approach, including electrification, sustainable renewable fuels, hybrid technology, hydrogen and other net-carbon solutions should be part of a balanced policy framework.
Tech openness empowers citizens, innovation, and resilience
We should be careful not to lose our global competitiveness and decades of investment by betting on only one solution and pricing out many citezens from personal mobility. The main objective with the mobility transition should be to reach climate goals while meeting diverse mobility and transport needs for all, regardless of financial means.
A transformation of such magnitude cannot happen without taking into account European citizens. Those that rely on advanced combustion engines for their livelihoods, and those for whom changing cars is a major investment, should not be forgotten. Policymakers need to safeguard economic and societal needs as well as protect employment.
While historically the focus has been on the tailpipe emissions of cars and light-duty vehicles, LCA demonstrates the importance of including emissions from the entire vehicle value chain, including for alternative powertrain technologies, to accurately assess a vehicle’s carbon footprint.
CLEPA supports the recent vote in the European Parliament’s Industry (ITRE) Committee to develop a methodology for the assessment and the consistent data reporting of the full life-cycle but believes this should come now. We also support ITRE’s decision to adjust the CO2 target to 90%, which allows for the further use of different technologies needed to better manage the transition to climate neutrality. This signal of technology openness is promising ahead of the upcoming Transport (TRAN) and Environment (ENVI) Committee votes on the CO2 standards. In order for the Green Deal to succeed, cars need to be green, affordable and fit for purpose.
Sigrid de Vries
CLEPA’s Secretary General