Publications Notes de l'Ifri

The Electric Vehicle in the Climate Change Race: Tortoise, Hare or Both? Notes de l'Ifri, January 2011

Europe is seeking ways to decrease the growing negative impact of passenger cars on climate, currently responsible for up to 12% of total EU CO2 emissions. After biofuels in the nineties and hydrogen in 2000, the new answer to climate change appears to be electric. But contrary to many marketing messages, electric cars are not zero emissions cars. They will not necessarily contribute to actual CO2 emission reductions before 2020 and even then, not in every country. 

The Electric Vehicle in the Climate Change Race. Tortoise, Hare or Both?

In EU Member States where the power sector is based on coal, they could actually make things worse. In others, bad management of the charging function could increase peak load requirements and cause investments in fossil-fuel-fired power plants. Finally, electric vehicles and related costs are very high. Not only does this cast doubts on the extent and timing of their eventual market breakthrough, but it may also mean that their CO2 tone abatement cost is high.

Nonetheless, for the longer term, CO2 emissions from conventional vehicles can only be reduced to a certain extent whereas the potential for electric vehicles plugged into a decarbonised electricity grid approaches zero. If electric cars are to help to reduce CO2 emissions significantly in the future, Europe needs to start now to develop this promising mitigation tool. There is in theory almost no constraint on the electric vehicle becoming a “zero emission vehicle”, while conventional car will always have to burn fuel.


The Electric Vehicle in the Climate Change Race: Tortoise, Hare or Both?
Carbon climate change Electric Vehicules Energy transition