why the all-electric is not a miracle solution

The forced development of the electric vehicle opens up many challenges and consequences that have not been addressed so far.


by Alexis Poulhes, ParisTech School of Bridges (ENPC) and Cyrille Francois, Gustave Eiffel University

On June 8, 2022, the European Parliament voted to ban the sale of new thermoelectric cars in 2035 on its territory. This measure is part of the European targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with deadlines of -55% in 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2050.

With this decision, European policies promote the electric vehicle (EV) as the solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. Today, sales of electric cars are increasing almost exponentially and represent almost 10% of passenger car sales in Europe. This deadline of 2035 therefore seems to be in line with current developments in the car market and the climate crisis.

However, this forced march leaves an impression of inevitability and ultimately an all-too-obvious solution to such complex planetary problems. It is necessary to be aware of the environmental consequences, but also of the economic and social issues.

Car pollution, beyond the tailpipe

From an environmental point of view, many studies have looked at the comparison between the thermomobile’s greenhouse gas emissions and its electric equivalent. Emissions during the EV’s in-use phase are directly dependent on the emission level of the electrical mix used to recharge the vehicles.

In the case of France, the production of electricity is low in carbon because it is highly nuclearized, which is not the case for all European countries. The construction of the electric car and especially of its battery emits a lot of greenhouse gas, the environmental benefits only become apparent if the car runs sufficiently. This does not help the spread of messages of sobriety, but nevertheless an important lever for climate mitigation.

By selecting only those emissions released within the territory, the carbon accounting methods are not suitable for solutions that induce pollution outside the national territory. With these accounting choices, the EV appears to be very effective in reducing the national carbon footprint… The desire to introduce it in France is therefore understandable, but its virtue does not apply on a planetary scale.

In addition to climate concerns, the ban on the sale of thermal vehicles in 2035 must respond to the air quality problem in most major cities in the world, with local economic and public health consequences.

Since the transport sector is a major source of this pollution, EVs represent an alternative way to reduce these emissions – a reduction that remains moderate, however, because the particles associated with tire, brake and road wear remain strong.

By introducing low-emission zones, many European cities are forcing owners of polluting vehicles to buy a newer car that emits less local pollutants, potentially an electric vehicle.

Oil tax loss and electric car subsidy

The electric revolution in the car fleet in 2035 will shake the entire economic system around the road. With the reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels, the income from the domestic consumption tax on energy products (TICPE) will decrease.

However, this tax, which brought in €33.3 billion in 2019, is central to the state and local government budgets. Replacing TICPE with a tax on electricity could offset some of the tax losses, but would affect all households, including those who travel less by car.

The introduced subsidy system (bonus and retraining premium), which has greatly contributed to the current level of electrification, will cost more and more. In 2020, it represented 700 million euros for a 20% market share, including hybrid cars. By comparison, the 2018 “cycling and active mobility” plan provides €350 million over seven years for cycling facilities.

Tax benefits and subsidies for the purchase of an electric vehicle now benefit several urban areas, which adopt this technology faster due to favorable conditions. However, rural and urban areas pose a major challenge in this race for electrification, and their residents have no choice but to use the car.

Markets in tension and very uncertain costs

The state will therefore be strongly encouraged to support companies and individuals in this transformation, it remains to be seen which political choice will be made to redistribute these costs among the taxpayers. Despite the installation of new electric generators, the increase in demand will greatly inflate the electricity bill of the French, especially if the residential sector also takes the route of electricity for heating.

Globally, like black gold, white gold, lithium and a large proportion of metals have become strategic resources to support electric mobility. But strong demand and the geographical imbalance between deposits and exploitation are creating tensions that will weaken the supply of and prices for raw materials.


Piles of salts containing lithium, in the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
Tomab/FlickrCC BY-NC-ND

The electrification of Europe will therefore depend on the import of these raw materials, leaving doubts about the ability to supply the entire European and global market with electric cars at a reasonable price.

A climatic bandage, far from the ecological remedy

The electrification of the car fleet is a milestone, based on an innovation that does not call into question the functioning of our society. If EV is part of the 2050 CO2 neutrality strategy, it will not be enough and will continue to maintain an unstable system dependent on strong artificialization of the earth and consumption of abundant resources and energy.

The climate crisis, with ambitious targets in 2030 and 2050, makes short-term solutions, such as electric cars, solvents that will no longer be viable in 2100, especially due to the lack of natural resources after 2050. By overselling its ecological benefits, the electric vehicle stifles potential actions to change our car-based system. Promoting sobriety remains the safest and most natural solution with multiple environmental and social benefits.

The mobility system, spatial planning and lifestyle are nevertheless trapped in a decades-old inertia centered on speed and consumption. Despite the urgency to put an end to this ecocide model, consideration of the future of car territories, between urban centers and rural areas, remains sluggish.

The end of the thermomobile in 2035 should not be synonymous with the systematic replacement of an electric car, but as a profound questioning of its place in our imagination and our everyday life.

Alexis Poulhès, teacher at the École des Ponts, research engineer at the Ville Mobilité Transport Laboratory, ParisTech School of Bridges (ENPC) and Cyrille François, engineer in environmental engineering and doctor in urban planning, Gustave Eiffel University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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