Proposed fuel efficiency standards in both the U.S. and EU will not reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks over the long term, according to a report released today by the World Resources Institute.
“Total emissions from this part of the transport sector are dependent on how many people drive, what they drive, and how they drive,” said the report’s author Lee Schipper, director of research at EMBARQ: The WRI Center for Sustainable Transport. “Fuel efficiency standards only address what they drive, and they don’t even do that very well.”
Schipper presented his analysis of actual on-the-road fuel efficiencies in several countries over the last decades at an event here today as part of the United Nations’ annual climate summit.
The report finds that industry has held fuel efficiency almost constant while increasing weight and power. Standards currently proposed in the U.S. and Europe would lead to a 33 percent increase in fuel efficiency – defined as distance traveled per volume of fuel – in the U.S. and about 25 percent in Europe once all cars on the road meet new standards. It will likely take 15 to 20 years for all vehicles on the road to meet any new standard, because it would only apply to cars yet to be sold. There will be additional delay between the time any new standard is set, and its going into force.
“It will actually take longer than 20 years for the effects of any standard to be fully realized – and the effect will be significantly less than is generally realized. The current proposals are not enough, said Schipper. “Meanwhile, the number of people driving, and the congestion they drive in, will increase so much that the atmosphere will see greater overall emissions from this sector compared to today, not less.”
In 20 or 25 years, then, the on-the-road average efficiency of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. might reach 28 mpg – as a result of the 35 mpg standard under consideration in the U.S.
Schipper said, “The atmosphere sees the real emissions, not those of artificial test conditions. Many policymakers are only considering the happier numbers accurate for new cars under ideal conditions, not air conditioning, not sitting in traffic, not how they work when they’re not well maintained.”
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector is critical to mitigate climate change. Automobiles account for 9 percent of total energy use and 20 percent of oil use in major industrialized countries, although in the U.S. this share is much higher.
“U.S. car buyers and drivers may be slowly waking up,” said Schipper, noting a small uptick in fuel economy of 2006 model year cars. “We need to do everything we can to improve fuel efficiency – but we also need to drive smaller, lighter vehicles. And we need to drive them less.”
The new report may be found online here: http://pdf.wri.org/automobile-fuel-economy-co2-industrialized-countries.pdf
Established in May 2002, EMBARQ - The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport - acts as a catalyst for socially, financially, and environmentally sound solutions to the problems of urban mobility. EMBARQ receives support from its global strategic partners the Shell Foundation and the Caterpillar Foundation.