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Diverse sectors are coming together to speed up the shift to zero emission vehicles

21st September 2021 Amanda Reaume 4 min read

If companies, organizations and governments want to stay on track to meet their climate commitments, the internal combustion engine must quickly become a thing of the past. That was the message sent by automotive leaders, government officials and NGOs at “RouteZero: COP26 and the race to zero emission vehicles,” a Climate Week NYC’s The Hub Live event.

The 15 speakers discussed how making the shift to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) sooner rather than later is pivotal in the fight against climate change.

RouteZero spotlights the urgency of the shift to ZEVs

“It’s not about whether to do this but how fast,” said Monica Araya, Drive Electric campaigner and Distinguished Fellow at ClimateWorks Foundation.

RouteZero, a COP26 ambition platform run by Climate Group and the UN Climate Champions, in partnership with 15 organizations from around the world, is amplifying that need for speed. It showcases action supporting the transition to ZEVs in advance of COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November.

COP26 presents unprecedented opportunities

Many see COP26 as a chance to get industry, government and civil society on board in the effort to decarbonize personal vehicles, public transport, shared vehicles and commercial fleets. With clean road transport one of the key themes set out by the UK Government's Presidency, there is a real opportunity for building momentum and keeping the pressure on in the run up to November's negotiations. 

Keeping climate change to just 1.5°C requires the world to halve emissions by 2030. Since road traffic is responsible for one-fifth of those emissions, ZEVs are an obvious focus for decarbonization.  Commercial fleets are a critical area for action. While they make up just 2% of vehicles, they’re responsible for 22% of road transport emissions in the EU.

Many sectors will need to come together to problem solve around these issues.

Setting and meeting clear ZEV goals can be daunting, but it is possible

Director General of Mobility for the Netherlands Kees van der Burg is leading the way with a goal for 30% of new trucks sold in his country to be ZEVs by 2030. For countries to support the drive to net zero road emissions, he explained, “We need policy targets for zero emissions vehicles.”

Christian Levin, CEO and President of Scania, a commercial vehicle manufacturer, agreed, but said that an EV future is only possible with the infrastructure to fuel it. “We need to invest heavily in charging…and we need to fill those charging stations with green energy,” he said.

We can start getting it done now

The focus of the Hub Live session was on action now rather than future commitments.

“Making long-term pledges isn’t what industry should be focusing on,” said Björn Annwall, Chief Financial Officer of Volvo Cars. “We should be focusing on what we can do here and now.”

He added that while Volvo cares about the environment, they are adopting ZEVs as much for business reasons as environmental ones. “It’s very clear that it’s going to be good business,” he noted.

Other industries will need to pitch in 

The push to put more ZEVs on the road doesn’t just require action from car companies. Pia Heidenmark Cook, Senior Advisor at Ingka Services (IKEA), talked about how the furniture company joined EV100 and made the pledge to transition to 100% electric delivery vehicles by 2025. 

“IKEA does not own our own fleet – so finance, sustainability and procurement have to work together,” she said. “We are deploying in most of our markets. We are doubling the amount of zero emissions vehicles every year.” 

Indeed, corporate and public sector procurement policies that prioritize ZEVs will play a huge role in creating ZEV momentum. These sustainable strategies won’t just transform what kind of vehicles organizations buy, but will also affect the vehicles their supply chains use. 

The ZEV transition will create millions of jobs

While many people claim that climate change mitigation endangers jobs, the panelists said nothing could be further from the truth. 

“If you take the 21 emerging markets and you spend $2.7 trillion, which is what it will take if we are going to transform urban transport, this will create 25 million jobs,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

However, Burrow cautions that we need to transition equitably. “You can’t go forward with new and improved batteries that are mined by child or forced labor, you can’t go forward if all we’re doing is changing the cities of the wealthy,” she said. “Everyone must have access to clean and affordable transport.”

We must ensure a just shift to ZEVs, to benefit both the planet and all of its inhabitants 

An equitable ZEV transition was the focus for many panelists, including such factors as:

  • Eliminating barriers for low-income and marginalized populations to accessing EVs
  • Implementing fair access to charging stations 
  • Ensuring that environmental benefits accrue to low-income communities and the Global South
  • Making sure good quality jobs created by the transition reach underprivileged groups

“Striving for environmental justice means ensuring that environmental harms from developing and deploying this technology do not result in disproportionate impacts to low-income communities of color,” said Brenda Mallory, chair of the US Council on Environmental Quality.

Together with their participants, RouteZero and COP26 are generating positive change

Going into COP26, there is reason to be optimistic. “Increasing numbers of governments and automotive manufacturers are announcing commitments to an all-electric future,” said Climate Group’s Head of Transportation, Sandra Roling. 

We hope that COP26 will see even more actors commit to, and take steps toward, a more equitable and greener zero emission vehicle future.