This article was originally posted on DriveElectricCampaign.org, and authored by Dr. Monica Araya, Rebecca Fisher,
Electrification has been making headlines this year, with exciting progress toward a zero-emission transportation system so we can take our daily trips without contributing to the climate crisis. Currently, road vehicles account for about 60% of oil demand meaning that shifting from fossil-fuel-powered engines to renewably-powered electric motors is one of the big projects to achieve a safer climate. That is the focus of the Drive Electric Campaign, part of the 2021 Audacious Project cohort and a global coalition of organizations working to accelerate a 100% electric transportation future.
Below we share five insights from the tremendous progress this year. The past few months have delivered defining policy wins in the push for electrification of road transportation around the world.
1. Deadlines matter – because the climate clock is ticking
From heatwaves to historic flooding, this year has shown the devastating impacts of climate destabilization are happening now. To effectively diverge from climate disaster we need bold action, time-bound targets, and binding policy across all sectors. Within the transportation sector there is growing convergence around a 2035 deadline to shift to 100% sales of zero-emission cars and vans – aligned with the Drive Electric Campaign’s ambitious goals and climate modeling.
In line with our goals, the European Union made history this summer by announcing an end date for polluting cars and vans, moving toward 100% sales of electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035. In August, California approved this same timeline to end sales of gasoline cars in favor of electric vehicles, including support for frontline communities most impacted by vehicle pollution. More U.S. states are likely to follow suit: New York has confirmed an end date for combustion in 2035, while Oregon and Washington State have indicated they will likely join soon. These recent wins followed announcements in the United Kingdom and Chile, who in the run up to COP26 late last year, set out similar goals. And just a few days ago, the Mayor of Medellin, Colombia announced their intention to discourage the sales of gasoline cars by restricting their access from 2035 onwards. It is now clear that a global movement towards this goal post has begun!
Further, the goals in Chile and Colombia show that this transition is not only happening in the EU and U.S. – both industrialized and emerging economies are leading this transition. While voluntary pledges are important signals of intention, what excites us right now is that 2035 is the focus of binding regulations to ensure these pledges are actually realized – in the examples above, some of the world’s largest vehicle markets are committing to eliminate tailpipe pollution using their legal authority.
2. Companies are stepping up in support of ambitious regulation
Our community knows that the most efficient and effective way to realize a just, equitable, and expedient zero emission transportation future is through smart regulations. Market forces like consumer preference alone will be insufficient to deliver electrification at the scale and speed needed according to climate science. Ambitious regulations help create bigger markets by sending clear signals to the supply side, including components (e.g. batteries, motors), vehicle manufacturers, and infrastructure suppliers.
However, the pathway to regulations – setting deadlines, passing laws that provide incentives, establishing penalties for non-compliance—has always been contested by interests invested in the polluting status quo and believe such a transition may harm their bottom line. We have also seen a proliferation of greenwashing in the business community, where companies announce they are embracing a zero emission future, while simultaneously blocking regulations behind the scenes.
Today, there is growing consensus that corporate leadership is not only about setting net-zero targets for your own operations, but actively backing policies that ensure the entire industry follows through on those targets. The climate community now expects leading vehicle companies to publicly support domestic vehicle emissions regulation and zero-emission vehicle requirements. We saw this recently with Volvo Cars and Ford of Europe, as they publicly supported proposed regulations in the European Union including stricter emissions standards and the end of gas-powered cars.
This is a positive precedent that other companies should follow. Companies can also step up by breaking away from the industry associations that traditionally have lobbied on their behalf – and that are continuing to cling to polluting transportation in many places.
3. The United States is finally back in the EV race
Along with State-level action on regulation, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Bill are game changers in the history of U.S. climate action, and are particularly relevant for transportation electrification. For the first time in years, the U.S. government has billions of dollars to deploy for EV incentives, compliance, and infrastructure – a relief to our global community after years of inaction. This huge package of “carrots” has the potential to dramatically increase EV adoption across modes in the United States. The pace of EV adoption needed to meet our Paris Agreement goals, especially for trucks, will not be possible without a set of corresponding “sticks” in the form of regulations. And to compete internationally, U.S. manufacturers must move quickly towards electrified offerings.
Much of the positive progress on electrification in the last several years was in Europe and China, and a few emerging markets. All regions where a supportive policy environment, including regulations, has sped up zero-emission vehicle manufacturing beyond just a few companies. This is especially the case with e-buses, where Chinese companies dominate the market outside of the EU and United States.
While recent policy wins in the U.S. will spur domestic adoption, the true test of their mettle will be if they can compete internationally against industry leaders from China and Europe.
4. Emerging markets leaders leap to the front
The stories we tell about who leads and who follows in climate action matter. It is time to change the architecture of the story we tell about electric transportation in emerging economies. Countries are not waiting for “assistance” from industrialized countries in order to electrify, rather many are ready to be EV champions to ensure their sustainable development.
At Climate Week NYC, many of our partners from India spoke about how there are various policies and programs at the national and state level that are supporting “leapfrogging” over fossil fuels toward e-mobility. There is significant action to support 2- and 3-wheelers and buses, and more recently zero-emission trucks.
This is also why it is important to amplify the story of electric buses of Latin America. In emerging markets, where buses play a key role in daily life, it is politically smart to have electric buses as an entry point in public awareness. We have seen this in both China and Latin America, where brand new electric buses can significantly improve the politics of electrification. These buses and the modern charging infrastructure convey modernization. They reduce air pollution and benefit people who can’t, or prefer not to use cars. In Chile, an early adopter of electric transportation, having electric buses entering the market early created a fertile political space for electrification of all types because of the social benefits.
Other electric vehicles are also gaining ground in emerging markets. There are massive projects of EV charging infrastructure in places like Chile, Egypt and India. Take the case of Costa Rica: many US specialists show genuine surprise to hear Costa Rica already has around 50 EVs from 23 brands from German and French brands to Chinese and Korean ones. Across the African continent, various startups are succeeding with swappable batteries for 2- and 3-wheelers. Hundreds of electric scooters are now providing a clean and more enjoyable mode for gig and delivery workers. With additional enabling policies and access to finance, these small-scale enterprises could transform an entire sector of the vehicle market in the region in a short period of time given their cost competitiveness with fossil fuel powered models.
Many countries want to lead, to join global value chains linked to EVs, and attract investments. Now more than ever, it’s time to tell stories of leadership, agency, and innovation in emerging economies.
5. Coalitions accelerate action on zero-emission transportation
In order to achieve scale and speed in the electrification of transportation, we also need coalitions that show political support for accelerating the end of the polluting internal combustion engine. At Climate Week in New York City, we shared the news of the Accelerating to Zero Coalition which will launch later this year to drive more commitments to zero-emission transportation.
This coalition is one example of how partner organizations join together to leverage expertise and stakeholder relationships from public and private sectors. It builds off the watershed moment from last year’s COP26 in Glasgow with the Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero Emission Cars and Vans supported by the UK government, the UN Climate Champions, and many other partners. This ZEV declaration calls on leaders in government, regions, cities, automotive sector, fleet owners, investors, unions movement, and other sectors, to support 100% ZEV sales by 2035 in leading markets (others by 2040). At the same time, the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) on Zero-Emission Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles” by CALSTART and the Dutch Government calls on countries and companies to commit to 100% sales of vehicles in these segments no later than 2040.
Now, the teams behind the ZEV declaration and the MOU will collaborate to increase the number of signatories in 2022 and 2023. Other partners are providing key support, including the Climate Group’s EV100, C40 Cities, UNEP’s mobility programme, and the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), and many more.
Coalitions matter because they bring together a great variety of leaders, from big and small countries states, and cities, developed and developing world, with corporate actors working on the ground by making cars, electrifying fleets and deploying infrastructure, as well as EV experts that produce top-quality analysis and EV advocates that bring positive pressure to go bigger and faster.
At Drive Electric, we celebrate the incredible work of these coalitions by our partners. We have much work ahead in the coming years, the incumbent resistance and inertia is still high, and yet we have great reasons to celebrate the important wins of the past months. To learn more, we invite you to read our latest report Driving Progress: accelerating a zero-emission road transportation future with key developments which include 31 policy wins around the world, plus additional key actions supported by our network of more than 100 partners working in 65 countries.