“good news”, even though “the clean vehicle does not exist”

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to ban the sale of new passenger cars and vans with internal combustion engines from 2035 in the EU. Technological feasibility, economic and ecological consequences: This announced shift is accompanied by as many doubts as it raises hopes. Highlight with Pierre Leflaive, transport specialist in the association Réseau action climat (RAC).

“History (…) A New Era.” It is in these terms that Pascal Canfin, Chair of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, welcomed the decision taken in Strasbourg on Wednesday, 8 June: MEPs advocated banning the sale of passenger cars and new vans with internal combustion engines before for the EU. Union. The decision is still expected to take effect in 2035 if the approval from all 27 is to be realized.

Brussels is thus planning a 55% reduction in CO emissions.2 on the continent by 2030. A wish that should be met by the elf: the European Commission intends to accelerate the transition to CO2 neutrality (planned for 2050) by encouraging manufacturers to invest massively in the electrification of the new car fleet.

But precisely because of the environmental impact of the batteries that power these vehicles, this European thunderclap is reviving a stormy debate: what if the electric car was ecological “fake good news”?

Some answers with Pierre Leflaive, Transport Manager at the Climate Action Network (RAC), an association that in France represents an international network of NGOs working for ecological change.

France 24: In the wake of the vote, Manon Aubry, chairman of the left-wing parliament, was delighted that “the lobbies have been defeated for once”. How to analyze this enthusiasm ?

Pierre Leflaive: We can see an expression of relief there: a progressive bloc in the European Parliament succeeded in setting a limit on the sale of the most polluting vehicles, without which all the climate targets for the transport sector were condemned.

This vote thus highlights two rather unprecedented facts: A coalition of MEPs is ready to fight to enshrine ecological ambitions in the stone of Community rules. And these citizen representatives have the ability to resist pressure groups attached to the car manufacturers. This is very good news for the climate.

Manufacture, obsolescence of batteries, half of which are made outside the EU … Critics of the electric car claim that it only changes the nature of pollution.

The clean vehicle does not exist: Producing a car inevitably means emitting greenhouse gases. With the electric, we stop emitting via an exhaust pipe, but we certainly continue to pollute at other stages.

The electric vehicle nevertheless makes real progress: According to studies, it emits up to five times less CO2 than thermal vehicles. And this by considering all the pollution of its life cycle, from the construction of the vehicle to the recycling of the batteries, including the production of electricity.

We are also able to reduce these emissions: through technological progress, but also simply by moving battery production to the place where these vehicles will be sold, within the EU.

However, as it is impossible to eradicate all types of pollution related to the car, and because the manufacture of batteries requires the use of rare metals, whose stocks are not infinite, other levers must be activated: sobriety and reduction of the European car fleet, via public transport, cycling, carpooling, an asset that allows us to reduce our dependence on the car.

Opponents of the vote in the European Parliament dispute the technical feasibility and economic viability of such a major transition.

Is the industry ready to convert fast enough technically? The answer is yes. The electric vehicle is a technology that has been mastered today. In terms of market share, sales are rising. Stellantis and Renault have also – to their shareholders – set ambitious goals, the implementation of which must certainly be monitored by 2030.

And the more investments that will be made in the electric vehicle, the more the cost of production and thus the selling prices will fall under the impetus of economies of scale. Thus, more European citizens, among those who remain dependent on the car, will have access to electricity.

European producers are facing increased competition from Chinese or American industries, which are investing heavily in electricity. However, the car sector is the largest employer in Europe. Far from being limited to the environment, the question is therefore also socially: It was appropriate for the EU to set foot in the electric car industry so as not to be left behind.

Will this project not prevent manufacturers from continuing to export incineration vehicles to the world market and thus retain the pollution elsewhere? ?

Are all continents capable of electrifying their car fleet? Already important for the most disadvantaged in Europe, the challenge of low-income households’ access to an electric vehicle concerns very large populations in developing countries. This is where EU responsibility comes into play: Europeans have the chance and therefore the duty to be able to show ambition in this area. Not only are we historically responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, but we also have the economic and industrial capacity to accelerate this transition.

Could the rise in oil prices caused by the war in Ukraine reinforce the demands for energy sobriety that you mentioned? ?

This increase already entails an expense of around 100 euros per. month and per. household. To this loss of purchasing power sobriety or electric cars certainly provides an answer. But this war could lead to more scenarios.

Regressions could materialize. The use of alternative technologies such as biofuels has a CO2 emissions balance2 raised. As they are based on the utilization of crops, such as bioethanol, they will increase the pressure on arable land and thus the price of food across the globe.

But we could also learn from this crisis. The explosion in energy prices and the de facto import of food reminds us that if our economies had begun to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, the consequences of the war in Ukraine would be less severe.

What scientists and NGOs predicted about the cost of environmental inactivity has become more tangible. Instead of warning of the dangers that are coming, we are now talking about what is happening before our eyes. The acceptability of the ecological conversion has thus increased.

But should we get out of this Ukrainian sequence by accelerating our transition to become more resilient to this type of shock? Or will setbacks and inertia expose us, not only to climate change, but to new economic dangers? We are at a crossroads.

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