November 18 (UPI) – At the COP26 climate summit, global politicians congratulated themselves on reaching a last-minute deal. Humanity is now anxiously waiting to see if countries implement the commitments they made and if those commitments help the planet.
If the rest of our climate progress reflects transportation policies, we are preparing for a difficult future.
COP26 may have been one of the last chances to avert devastating climate change, and yet the best and boldest action our leaders could envision for transport was the universal adoption of electric vehicles – with a vague nod to active and public transport.
Electric vehicles are exciting for politicians, many businesses and a few drivers. They give us the illusion that we are significantly reducing our environmental impact while changing virtually nothing to our lifestyles.
But electric vehicles are doing what internal combustion engine cars have always done in our urban areas. They allow greater distances to be put between the places where we live, work and shop. But ever-expanding cities are not sustainable.
Constantly building in pristine areas and swapping forests or farmland for low-density housing uses exorbitant amounts of limited resources. The more our cities expand, the less interest there is in developing to reach the scale our urban areas need for efficient use of infrastructure such as water, sanitation, electricity and public transport. .
Electric cars remain cars
Electric cars make our cities less attractive and less efficient for more sustainable modes of transport. Regardless of the type of propulsion, car drivers kill 1.35 million people worldwide each year, including more than 300 in New Zealand.
More cars in cities means more space taken up for parking, less space and more danger for active modes and less efficient public transport. Plugging in a car doesn’t prevent it from being a deadly machine or causing traffic jams.
There is still no clear and sustainable way to deal with e-waste generated by electric vehicles. Electric cars are not “green”. They still use tires, which creates a huge waste stream. Tire wear produces microplastics that end up in our waterways and oceans.
Although electric vehicles use regenerative braking, which is better than traditional internal combustion cars, they still use brake pads when the brakes are applied. Braking generates toxic dust composed of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and chromium. These heavy metals make their way to our streams and rivers, becoming embedded in these streams forever.
Even if electric vehicles were great for the planet, we may not achieve a level of use in New Zealand that significantly reduces transport emissions to deserve our climate targets.
New Zealand introduced subsidies in July this year, but at this point less than 0.5% of the vehicle fleet is fully electric. At the current rate of electric vehicle adoption, it will be several decades before enough electric motors power our vehicle fleet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to advice from the Climate Change Commission to government, to achieve New Zealand’s net zero target by 2050, at least 50% of imported light vehicles should be fully electric by 2029, with no vehicle imports light internal combustion from the early 2030s. The report then concedes that:
Even with the rapid shift to electric vehicles, around 80% of vehicles entering the fleet this decade would still be internal combustion engine vehicles.
Current adoption rates for electric vehicles reflect adoption by the wealthiest in our society. Once those with the highest disposable income buy electric cars, we can expect the adoption curve to flatten.
It is unfair to expect middle and lower income people to replace their current vehicles with more expensive electric cars. Mitigating emissions through consumerism is highly inequitable. We place the heaviest burden on the most vulnerable groups.
Those who push technology like electric vehicles are making big promises that give us the false sense that we can live our lives pretty much the way we do now and not care about the planet. In reality, our lifestyles must undergo significant changes to have a significant impact.
Despite all of this, there is good news. The changes needed to move us closer to a sustainable future are many things that many of us love about living in community. It is about bringing together the different uses of the land to allow people to live, work and shop in their neighborhood. It is about connecting communities to cycling and public transport infrastructure for longer journeys.
Life as we know it will have to change, but that change could be for the better. We don’t need to give up the over 3 million fossil fuel cars we have, but we should be driving them a lot less. While it sounds nice, buying a new electric car won’t save the planet.
Timothy Welch is Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning at the University of Auckland.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.