How a critical mass of countries could double the pace of the global transition to zero emission vehicles, and how you can help

(Originally published 27 November 2020 here.)

The transition from petrol and diesel cars to zero emission vehicles is accelerating towards a tipping point. Governments of some of the world’s largest and most influential car markets just agreed to work together to make it go even faster.

Policy drives the pace of change

In Europe, electric vehicles’ (EV) share of new car sales increased from 3% in the first half of 2019 to 8% in 2020, and has continued to accelerate to 12% in September. Looking at individual countries, Norway’s EV sales share reached 70% in September, while major markets were led by Germany at 16%, France at 11% and UK at 10%. China’s EV market share hit nearly 6% in July, while California – the market leader in the US – hovered above 13% EV sales in the first half of 2020.

Europe’s rapid growth has not come about by accident. Policies such as regulatory standards, purchase subsidies, investment in charging infrastructure, and public communications, have played a critical role. For example, to comply with Europe’s CO2 standards, global auto manufacturers introduced 143 new EV models in 2019. And at least five European countries have come out with green recovery packages that provided incentives for EVs.

A new international effort is targeting the gains from coordinated action

Low battery prices are the key to unlock more affordable electric cars that can be sold in higher volumes. The cost of EV batteries has fallen by nearly 90% over the last decade, and some project EVs will hit cost parity with petrol cars within the next several years. By working together to accelerate the growth of the global market, countries can bring costs down more quickly, and arrive earlier at this tipping point where ZEVs become cheaper to buy than petrol and diesel cars, as well as being cheaper to run – and of course, less polluting.

Today, for the first time, ministers and representatives from fifteen governments that set the rules for around half of the global car market, came together to form a Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council. Together with partners in industry and civil society, they form a critical mass that can shift the global market. Today they agreed to work together to accelerate the pace of the global transition.

Doubling the pace of the transition

To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, we think all new car sales globally need to be zero emission by around 2040, and earlier if possible in the major markets. That means roughly doubling the pace of the transition. Such an acceleration will be challenging, but Europe’s recent experience should serve as a reassuring sign of what is possible.

As host of the COP26 UN climate change talks in 2021, the UK is bringing governments, businesses, and civil society together to work towards this goal. We are inviting Governments to support this by requiring all new cars sold within their markets to be zero emission by 2040 or earlier. (The UK just committed to phasing out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030). NGOs can advocate strong policies, and highlight the benefits for public health, energy security, consumer savings and industrial competitiveness. Vehicle manufacturers can commit to making all the cars they sell zero emission by this time, and their shareholders can encourage them to do so. Businesses that own large vehicle fleets can contribute by committing to buy only zero emission vehicles, and by joining the EV100 initiative.

As COP President Designate Alok Sharma has said, by working together, we can certainly make faster progress.