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COP26: Long way ahead for zero-emission vehicles despite national leaders’ pledge for EV push

By Arghyadeep on Nov 19, 2021 | 04:39 AM IST


• Over 30 national governments, including the UK, Canada, and India sign a zero-emission transport pledge

• Abundant access to charging, starting at home, will be the key to adopting a 100% electric drive fleet

The COP26 Presidency saw some big announcements on November 10, the day the United Nations dedicated as “Transport Day” for its climate summit to zero out pollution from some of the world’s dirtiest sources, including cars, trucks, ships, and two- and three-wheelers and planes.

One of the most significant pledges on Transport Day was governments, businesses, and investors committing to zero-emission passenger cars and vans by 2035, to be followed by the rest of the world by 2040.

Also Read: Convening for a greener future - COP26 and its relevance

Among those who signed the zero-emission transport pledge were over 30 national governments, including the UK, Canada, and India. There were numerous sub-national governments like New York, Washington, and California. Large automakers such as Ford, GM, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BYD Auto, and Jaguar Land Rover, as well as major corporations with large fleets, joined the Transport Day pledge.

Although the most prominent auto manufacturing countries, including the United States, Japan, Germany, and China, were stayed out, U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive order signed in August targeting 50% electric vehicle sales by 2030 has been an encouraging development.

The U.S. and 13 other countries, including the UK, Panama, and Norway, agreed to new emissions goals for shipping in 2023, to be pursued through the International Martine Organization, aiming at achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Also, the “First Movers Coalition” was launched at COP26 by global companies with supply chains across carbon-intensive sectors, including shipping giant A.P. Moller – Mærsk, Amazon, and Apple, to leverage their collective buying power to create the market conditions required to push innovation in reducing carbon emission.

The coalition is committed to converting its complete fleet of medium-duty trucks and 30% heavy-duty trucks to zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

The partnership also announced to have 10% of the freight volume on international shipping with zero-emission fuels by 2030. On the aviation front, new goals for air transport to use low-carbon aviation fuels were announced.

Adoption of policies

A rich dialogue among an array of diverse partners, which boasts stakeholders, government officials, and the private sector, was needed to limit the ever-increasing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as the greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector have more than doubled since 1970, with around 80% of the increase coming from road vehicles, according to the United Nations.

Also Read: 'Weak terms' in COP26 draft document could raise temperatures by 2.4°C

The transport sector is currently almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels and contributes about one-quarter of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, as only half the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transport, a UN report shows. It also estimates that the global car fleet will triple by 2050.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport are growing faster than any other sector, and to stop the emission, the policies at COP26 should be adopted by every jurisdiction.

Policymakers and stakeholders alike must move with speed, scale, and ambition to meet and exceed the announced commitments.

Zero-emission commitment

In the COP26 climate summit, one of the top recurring themes at numerous meetings was the discussion to ensure carmakers produce and introduce a minimum share of electric vehicles into the consumer market.

Some jurisdictions have already established potent greenhouse gas and zero-emission standards for automobile manufacturers, resulting in the introduction and robust supplies of electric vehicles, leading to tremendous increases in sales of EVs over the past two years.

These EVs are primarily available and offered first in the jurisdictions that are essentially forcing the carmakers to follow the norms.

Also Read: UN chief Guterres says global warming goal on 'life support'

While, in the European Union and the UK, these standards have taken the form of binding CO2 emission limits on vehicles, it’s the New Energy Vehicle requirement in China and the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard In the U.S.

In Western Europe, where the GHG emission standards became more compulsory in 2020, about twice as many EV models are now being offered by automakers when compared to the U.S., helping numerous jurisdictions to boost EV sales from less than 5% in 2019 to more than 20% in the first half of 2021.

In September alone, EV sales zoomed to 30% of the market in Germany and exceeded 90% in Norway.

Moreover, global passenger EV sales are set to jump over 80% in 2021 to 5.6 million units, according to the Zero-Emission Vehicles Factbook, a special report published by BloombergNEF, at COP26 in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

There are currently 8.5 million true zero-emission vehicles worldwide, which jumped from 4.6 million since COP25, held in December 2019.

At the same time, the global fleet of zero-emission buses has increased by 22% in the first of 2021, since 2019. The report expects 18% of all municipal buses on the road to be zero-emission at the end of 2021.

Charging infrastructure

Abundant access to charging, starting at home, will be the key to adopting a 100% electric drive fleet.

However, the local authorities have to implement laws to encourage citizens to adopt EVs. The way to overcome the challenge, where the tenants who do not necessarily own a parking spot, is to implement “right to charge” laws which will encourage residents to claim the right to install charging infrastructure while also adopting rules to streamline permitting building codes to have parking spots to be EV-ready.

Ensuring a coordinated and reliable fast-charging network will also be needed to reassure the new EV adopters. While home-charging will continue to serve most refueling needs, fast-charging stations will be necessary for those with limited access to home charging or who need to travel longer distances.

Among all other challenges, the governments have to expedite permitting and construction of stations to avoid projects stretching out to years and build infrastructure for commercial trucks, vans, and two-  and three-wheelers.

It is also essential to allow innovation like the Scottish startup Trojan Energy that developed a unique, flat-and-flush on-street EV charging hub.

The company developed an EV charging solution, where its charging points are flat-and-flush in the street, which means the pavement is clear of clutter and fully accessible to other pavement users. The charging points are connected via underground ducts to cabinets located up to 100m away and can send power to 15 charging units at any given time.

Other companies have developed retractable chargers that disappear back into the sidewalk or charging systems incorporated into existing street lights.

Cost parity

Through economies of scale and innovation, the cost of owning an EV is reducing rapidly worldwide, with a study by BloombergNEF points that EVs could reach cost parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles as soon as 2023.

But more economical solutions are needed for low-income countries, where policies are required to accelerate the transition.

Governments worldwide need to introduce fiscal measures to reward consumers who are adopting electric vehicles via direct purchase incentives or by reducing sales and registration taxes and applying either pollution taxes or retaining higher taxes for polluting ICE vehicles.

There’s also the need for prioritizing incentives for those who need the most, like moderate- and lower-income households, which will help deliver more equitable outcomes and lead to increased efficacy.

Also Read: Poor countries demand financial aid for climate damage

Wealthy nations with the capacity and resources must firm up initiatives to assist low-income countries, where the time for developing infrastructure, programs, and policies needs a head start.


If there is one thing COP26 has shown the world, it is helping each other as a nation. The introduction of climate financing for EVs is urgent, as infrastructure costs remain a crucial barrier for many.

Moreover, public-private financing mechanisms can also help stretch public funds by attracting more private capital investments to accelerate the transition to ensure driving on electricity remains attractive, and stakeholders will need to work on policies and programs with regulators.

Picture Credit: Shutterstock

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