Everybody Wants to Rule the World

  John Eichberger |  December 9, 2020

In general, the developed economies of the world are uniting in their pursuit of a lower carbon/carbon neutral/net zero carbon emissions transportation system. It is a laudable goal and one that deserves careful attention, commitment and coordinated action to reduce carbon emissions throughout the global market. Yet, at the end of 2020 there seemed to be a significant lack of coordination, especially when we consider the flurry of activity with regards to banning the sales of internal combustion engines (ICE) in the relatively near future.

It seems there exists a competition to be first to market, to take on the banner of leader in the pursuit of carbon reductions. As I was thinking about it, a familiar guitar riff began to play in the back of my head, released by a British band in 1985 – Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

Welcome to your life
There’s no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you
Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on mother nature
Everybody wants to the rule the world.

The desire to push the envelope to accelerate the reduction in carbon emissions from the transportation system is understandable. The Fuels Institute’s own assessments of market turnover to new technology indicate that if historic patterns of vehicle purchase and retirement persist, combined with traditional consumer behavior relative to transitioning to substitute products, then it will take decades for a new technology to make a significant dent in the overall vehicle fleet. For those who believe this pace of change is not fast enough, pursuing government programs to accelerate the transition is consistent with their objectives.

ICE Bans – A Global Trend

The Fuels Institute’s most recent report, “Impact of Transportation-Related Environmental Initiatives,” takes a look at a wide range of movements (37 total) either implemented or being considered globally to address emissions from the transport sector. Among these is a look at proposed or actual policies to ban the sale of ICEs. It is worth taking a quick look at the report.

There are several additional resources that provide an overview of countries that have announced or enacted policies to ban either the sale or registration of ICE vehicles. Among these, I suggest you take a look at The Climate Center, International Council on Clean Transportation and the Fuels Institute’s very own report, “Global Initiatives: Assessing Current and Future Global Initiatives on Fuels and Vehicles.” In short, the following 15 nations have made some movement (announcement, legislation, executive action) towards phasing out ICEs by 2040 or sooner: Austria, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

This list is not insignificant - according to the statistical site Knoema.com, these fifteen countries represented approximately 46% of all vehicle sales (light duty and commercial) in the world in 2019. However, China itself represented 28% of global sales, with the European countries representing about 18%.

share-of-vehicle-sales-into-ICE-ban-nations.jpg

The situation became more interesting in 2020 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK announced in February that their proposed ICE ban would move up from 2040 to 2035. Then in September, California Governor Gavin Newsome announced an executive order to ban the sale of ICEs in his state effective 2035. Then the Province of Quebec announced a ban on ICE sales effective 2035, following British Columbia which in May 2019 set a 2040 target date. Then, in November 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson jumped to the front and again accelerated the UK plans and moved the effective date to 2030. What will happen next?

It’s my own design
It’s my own remorse
Help me to decide
Help me make the
Most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

How Will ICE Bans Be Implemented?

Without diving into the specifics of any of these plans, they all raise a few questions for me: 

  • Will the vehicle manufacturing industry be able to shift production streams to satisfy the demands of these regions for new zero emissions vehicles? If not, what must change to satisfy these objectives?
  • Will charging or hydrogen refueling infrastructure expand at a rate sufficient to satisfy consumer demand for transportation energy? What should regulators be considering to facilitate the necessary expansion?
  • Are the electricity generation and transmission systems prepared for the additional demand? If not, what adjustments must be made between now and then to ensure reliable, affordable power is available to drivers? What might be the impact on lower-income and/or disadvantaged communities?
  • Will consumers embrace the change? How might the governments address potential consumer concerns or encourage support for the new direction?
  • For regions within a country where migration between regions is easy, how will the policies address the desire of residents to register a vehicle purchased in another state or province? 

These are few of the questions that immediately come to my mind. In an effort to help policymakers craft regulations that will address the myriad potential issues that may arise in the market, the Fuels Institute will be convening a task group of stakeholders to explore the issues in more depth and develop a collaborative set of questions that should be at the forefront of consideration when these programs are officially developed. Hopefully, by providing such perspective, the interests of consumers and market participants can be effectively reflected in the implementation strategies. In addition, the Institute’s Electric Vehicle Council began working earlier this year and will soon be publishing several resources to help the market better understand the various factors that affect charger deployment.

Competition for Leadership?

The intent of the policies themselves aside, I can’t help but wonder if the pursuit of “bragging rights” might be at play here.  Is there a thread of competition among those who have made the most recent announcements?  Think about it - PM Johnson announces in February the first acceleration of the UK target from 2040 to 2035. Then after Governor Newsome made news in September with a 2035 effective date, PM Johnson jumps again and moves his target date to 2030. Does it really matter who goes first or who is viewed as the most assertive leader on this topic?

Regardless the motivations behind the recent announcements, I believe that the entire lifecycle of the transportation mode being advanced must be fully understood and addressed. I keep seeing a headline pop up in my Google news feed about the CEO of Polestar saying that electric vehicles are not necessarily clean and there is more work to be done. Clearly, electric vehicles are a very important part of the long-term strategy, but reducing emissions from transportation requires a holistic approach, addressing as many inputs into the system as possible – no one initiative will achieve the objectives of a carbon neutral market. I believe the true global leader in the effort to reduce transportation carbon emissions will be the one who puts all the pieces together and shows a long-term sustainable solution.   

Say that you’ll never, never, never, never need it
One headline, why believe it?
Everybody wants to rule the world.

Equity Must be Top of Mind

In our efforts to reduce emissions, we must not ignore the issue of equity. The issue has come up in several initiatives on which I am working with other groups, and recently it really became clear to me how important it is.

Globally, there are regions in the world that are far removed from these emissions discussions because they simply are not capable of participating. For example, I learned that November 19 was World Toilet Day. This is a United Nations Observance that seeks to raise awareness of the “4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation.” Yes, emissions and climate implications associated with transportation is a priority for the developed economies of the world with the implications affecting the global population, but more than half of that population have much more fundamental concerns affecting their daily existence, and this must not go unnoticed. Forcing upon them a one-size-fits-all solution will not work.

Within the U.S., the differences are not as stark, but they are real nonetheless. During the Thanksgiving holiday, I was driving my Wrangler on back country, dirt and mud topped fire-roads in southwest Virginia when I enter the small railroad town of Clifton Forge. We were greeted by a neighborhood populated with older yet beautifully well-maintained single-family homes. What struck me is that not one of these residences I encountered was equipped with a garage nor with any sort of off-street parking. These residents are not equipped to charge electric vehicles and the effort necessary to upgrade this neighborhood to accommodate such vehicles must not be underestimated. It may be feasible to convert an urban, metropolitan or suburban community to rely predominantly on plug-in electric vehicles, but for communities like Clifton Forge it will not be an easy transition. Once again, a one-size-fits-all solution will not work.

The Path Forward

These concerns about equity (and others that are raised) are not designed to derail efforts to reduce carbon emissions – to the contrary, they are raised to ensure that any potential side-effects of a proposed policy can be addressed and inoculated before the new medicine is administered. Identifying hurdles to success is critical if success is to be achieved; ignoring those hurdles is a recipe for disaster.

Addressing transportation emissions is a critical objective that will require a coordinated approach that recognizes the magnitude of tradeoffs associated with each available option. Our recent report provides a menu of 37 initiatives that have been proposed or implemented and dives deeper into 14 of them to provide an objective evaluation, looking at their effectiveness in terms of emissions reductions and their associated costs to society, governments and consumers.  It is a manual to help leaders navigate a very challenging task and can help them assemble programs that balance the mutual objectives of environmental and economic sustainability, while being very sensitive to the issues of equity. If we don’t balance these issues, nothing we try will succeed.

Here is hoping that environmental discussions in 2021 and beyond are comprehensive, coordinated, balanced and practical – all will be required to successfully achieve the world’s objectives.

There’s a room where the light won’t find you
Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down
When they do, I’ll be right behind you
So glad we’ve almost made it
So sad they had to fade it
Everybody wants to rule the world
I can’t stand this indecision
Married with a lack of vision
Everybody wants to rule the world.

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