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No Way or The Electric Highway

Image Credit: Mariordo (Wikimedia: Creative Commons)

Fossil fuels are starting to be divested, meaning electric vehicles are no longer an option – they are a necessity. Australia must invest in electric vehicles or will be left behind. Without schemes set by the Australian government to incentivise electric vehicle purchases, and necessary funding for the supporting infrastructure, we are unlikely to meet our carbon reduction targets.

Transport is responsible for an incredible 23% of the globe’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, the fourth largest contributing sector to greenhouse gases. The elimination of fossil fuel powered engines may be the solution to reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases. By shifting the landscape of transportation to electric-power and ensuring that electricity is produced from renewable resources, fossil-fuels will no longer be imperative to society’s normal functioning. The combination of electric cars and cheap solar may actually stop worldwide growth in demand for oil and coal by 2020.

Many European governments have stepped up to the electric-vehicle challenge. Norway has led the way, committing to phase out all petrol and diesel powered cars by 2025. The domino effect is in action: the Netherlands have committed to ban fossil fuelled cars by 2030, Scotland by 2032, France by 2040 and the UK by 2040. Political pressure is intensifying; the European commission sent a ‘final warning’ to the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain earlier this year for repeatedly breaching air pollution limits.

Car manufacturers are now in the race to gain electric vehicle market share. Volvo committed to manufacturing only fully electric cars or hybrid cars from 2019. Jaguar Land Rover, UK’s largest car manufacturer, announced recently it will make only electric or hybrid cars from 2020. Ford announced in January 2018 that it will invest AU$13.5 billion into electric vehicles over the next 5 years. Even Uber London has demanded all drivers must use either a hybrid or fully electric vehicle by 2020.

Unsurprisingly, the 1.7 trillion-dollar oil industry is in strife. Oil giants continue to deny the reality of the widespread future influence of electric vehicles. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries expects oil demand to increase to 100 million barrels per day by 2020, a sharp increase from 2017’s average of 97 million barrels per day. BP optimistically predicts that fossil fuels will still account for 75% of the energy mix in 2035, claiming the rising middle-class in developing countries, particularly in Asia, will support car ownership and oil demand.

With greater technological improvements and improved economies of scale, the above assumption is flawed. Battery costs have fallen a huge 73% to $268/kWh in the seven years to 2015, enabling greater consumer access to the market. The electric vehicle reform could lead to 16 million barrels of oil displaced per day by 2040, and 25 million by 2050. Whilst the oil industry assures growth in demand and ‘unparalleled commitment’, electric vehicles can drastically shift this fossil-fuel industry’s trajectory.

Electric vehicle uptake potential may be high, but worldwide progress is slow. Electric vehicles currently comprise less than 1% of the global light-duty passenger vehicle share. Governments committing to enforcing electric vehicle use are necessary to ensure economies of scale can be employed. Whilst Norway offers a 25% VAT tax emption on all electric vehicles, Australia’s cheapest electric car is still almost $50,000. The electric car market share is expected to rise to 40% in Norway next year, run almost exclusively off hydropower. Meanwhile, Australia’s electric car market share comprised a mere 0.09% last year.

The air pollution produced from fossil-fuel combustion is killing not only our environment, but also our people. 5.5 million people die each year as a result of air pollution, of which approximately half is attributed to road transport.

Government support of electric-powered vehicles is not revolutionary. Whilst the switch away from fossil fuel powered vehicles warrants greenhouse gas reductions, it does not eliminate them. Personal vehicles must not be considered the only solution. In Copenhagen, bikes outnumber cars, and in Chengdu (China), the new residential area has been designed so that people can walk anywhere in 15 minutes. Smart cities and public transport planning is key to making it easier not to drive.

Australia, it’s time to jump on board electric-vehicles or make it easier not to drive.

Your move.

Alexandra Devlin is the Climate Change and Energy Security Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.

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