Targeting Internal Combustion
Following decades of failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the internal combustion engine has now become the target of governmental efforts aimed at limiting global impacts from climate change. Dozens of global cities and even some entire countries have vowed to enact a ban on gasoline and diesel vehicles to reduce carbon emissions, enhance public health, and combat climate change. At the end of 2017, policymakers in Athens, Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City revealed that they were developing plans to remove diesel cars and vans from their roadways by 2025 (Coren, 2018). Norway released a plan to phase out all conventional gas-powered cars by 2025, while France and the United Kingdom plan to implement the same regulations in 2040 and 2050, respectively. A rise in regulations aimed at removing fossil fuels from global transportation systems will have a profound impact on the fossil fuel industry as a whole.
If the number of gas-powered vehicles starts to decline in the coming years, this would push the world away from peak oil consumption and towards a continued decline in oil demand. The rise of electric vehicles (EVs), coupled with regulations targeting gasoline and diesel vehicles, has become a paramount concern for many global oil companies and fossil fuel interest groups. While scientists and energy industry analysts have moved away from the 1956 Hubbert peak oil theory, which was a 1956 prediction that oil production in the United States would peak between 1965 and 1971, industry analysts have started to hypothesize how fossil fuel regulations and EV adoption could influence peak oil demand.
Ever since the 2015 scandal where Volkswagen revealed how they had rigged many of their diesel engines to secretly emit vastly more carbon and toxins into the atmosphere than previously allowed under internal regulations, car emissions in general have come under increasing international scrutiny. Limited bans on some older diesel-powered vehicles in cities like Paris, Madrid, and Hamburg have already prompted many drivers to abandon diesel engines in droves.
Diesel vehicle registrations fell to 36 percent of total sales across Europe in 2018, which is down from more than half in 2015, the same year when the Volkswagen diesel-emissions cheating scandal was announced to the public (Behrmann, 2019). In addition to European cities and countries aiming to remove fossil fuels from the transportation system, the Canadian province of British Columbia recently unveiled North America’s most aggressive legislation to target fuel-burning cars. The British Columbia law mandates that 10 percent of all vehicles sold by 2025 would be zero emission vehicles, while the sale of gasoline and diesel cars and trucks will be banned completely by 2040 (Statt, 2019).
United Nations Initiatives
The internal combustion engine only recently became the target of global initiatives to comply with efforts to move forward with the United Nations-backed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2015, the United Nations developed a broad set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals in an effort to support global action on sustainability by 2030. In addition to targeting fossil fuels in general, one of the goals created as part of the SDGs was to make city transportation systems more sustainable (UCLG, 2015). Removing fossil fuels from city transportation systems has been seen as one of the easiest methods to comply with this international commitment.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are rising at a higher rate than emissions from any other energy sector (Meckling and Nahm, 2019). Moreover, in many economies around the world, transportation-related emissions now account for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. According to many international energy analysts, the global population growth has fueled an unsustainable increase in energy consumption and natural resource harvesting (Hecht et al, 2012).
Intense urbanization has initiated a need for new modes of transportation to solve challenges related to environmental sustainability, congestion, social equity, and sustainable economic grow. As countries around the world have continued to support transportation powered by fossil fuels, the transportation sector as a whole has increased global air pollution, climate change, adverse public health effects, and provided inequitable access to goods and services (Lim & Taeihagh, 2018). To adequately address the goal of making cities equitable, livable, and sustainable, global policymakers are evaluating how new vehicle-related regulations may be able enhance transportation options for all citizens while also reducing the impacts of climate change.
While many nations have revealed plans to limit growth related to fossil fuels in the transportation system and personal automobile ownership in general, U.S. lawmakers have not expressed the same level of desire when compared to their Canadian and European counterparts. Following World War II, economic restructuring (deindustrialization and the shift to a service-based economy), powerful oil and automobile industry lobbies, and cheap and abundant energy contributed to mass motorization in America. Multiple waves of economic growth and the expansion of car-dependent built environments have collectively made the United States the world’s most motorized nation (Jones, 2008).
The main difference between transportation in the U.S. and other developed countries has been the overall level of car ownership, and the way that gasoline and diesel vehicles have become inscribed in the American economy, society, and culture. In 1950, during the early years of mass motorization, American citizens drove 40 million cars, which was about 75 percent of the world’s total (Pirani, 2018). Fossil fuels and motorization have long been a staple of American life and culture.
However, as concerns related to climate change, the environment, and public health continue to become more prevalent, American municipalities and cities may start to implement restrictions on the internal combustion engine. The U.S. states of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont have all signed on to an agreement to reduce national vehicles emissions to zero by 2050 (Coren, 2018).
In 2018, out of the more than 17 million new cars that were purchased in the U.S., just 1.2 percent of them were not powered by fossil fuels (Statt, 2019). Although, states like California hope to dramatically change this statistic in the coming years. While the federal government under the Trump administration has turned a blind eye to regulations that would limit fossil fuels in the American transportation system, state regulators across the country have started to introduce plans to restrict the continued growth of gasoline and diesel vehicles. While the bill didn’t pass, lawmakers introduced the idea of a ban on the sale of internal combustion cars within the California Legislature.
However, under increasing pressure from the fossil fuel lobby, President Trump has been attempting to revoke California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own pollution standards and EV mandates (Coren, 2018). Even if California were to pass a law to end the manufacturing and registration of new gasoline and diesel cars, the Trump administration could negate such efforts.
Global EV Initiatives
While the U.S. has struggled to come to a consensus about efforts to eliminate fossil fuels from the transportation system, many European nations have already passed aggressive laws that tips the scales in favor of EVs rather than gasoline and diesel. Even though EVs only made up about one percent of global annual vehicle sales in 2016 and just 0.2 percent of all vehicles on the road, new energy and economic analyst projections predict that by 2030, EVs could account for over 20 percent of annual global vehicle sales (Hensley et al, 2018).
In 2017, Norway on the other hand already surpassed electric vehicle sales expectations, with 52 percent all new car sales being electric (Coren, 2018). To increase electric vehicle sales, Norway has handed out a plethora of tax-related gifts and thousands of dollars in perks in the form of subsidized parking, breaks on tolls, and other incentives. In addition to incentives, some cities and countries are starting to instate financial penalties for drivers of gasoline and diesel vehicles. In the United Kingdom, consumers are presented with tax breaks at the time of a new electric vehicle purchase, while daily fees are slapped on drivers of inefficient vehicles in major cities like London.
China and India have also conducted research into phasing out fossil-fuel powered cars. Because of intense air pollution in India’s capital city, the Indian government has reportedly issued a 2030 target for all-electric vehicles, but is contingent on falling technology costs. Moreover, China has also been evaluating a series of proposals to phase out internal combustion engines. Because Chinese demand for oil and gas has vastly outpaced the country’s ability to increase their domestic production of fossil fuels, the country has started to identify opportunities to reduce their consumption.
With a rapidly growing population of nearly 1.4 billion and a government that is passionate about increasing economic growth, Chinese leaders are looking to reduce their reliance on foreign powers by cutting their fossil fuel consumption within the country’s transportation system. More disturbances in the Middle East, similar to the 2019 Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, may increase energy prices and impact overall growth in China. Therefore, reducing fossil fuel consumption altogether will reduce governmental anxiety related to foreign energy.
A Dead End for Fossil Fuels
A future defined by electrified vehicles may support the United Nations social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development. However, phasing out fossil-fuel powered cars will have rippling effects throughout the auto industry and the international energy market. In the last few years alone, the auto industry has been rushing to roll out electrified vehicles. Daimler, Volkswagen, General Motors, and Ford have all unveiled fleet electrification plans. Daimler alone is planning to spend $11.7 billion to build 10 all-electric and 40 hybrid vehicle models, with eventual plans to electrify its entire lineup of cars, trucks, and SUVs (Coren, 2019). Even though the demand for gasoline and diesel is still projected to rise through the 2030s, major oil companies are starting to acknowledge that EVs and policies aimed at limiting internal combustion engine growth may be approaching more rapidly than originally anticipated.
As governments and automakers have rolled out a variety of initiatives to incentivize electric vehicles, some consumers and fossil fuel advocacy organizations have been quick to criticize these actions. British Columbia’s Zero-Emission Vehicles Act (ZEVA) has received heavy criticism for the law’s potential ineffectiveness, as well as the potential to adversely impact economic growth within the province. The reduction of internal combustion engines in individual cities and Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark is expected to come relatively quickly. However, the global trajectory is expected to turn over relatively slowly, which will ease fears from fossil fuel companies about their profits rapidly declining.
In December 2019, Madrid became one of the first cities in the world to implement restrictions on fossil fuel vehicles. Gas-powered vehicles made before 2000 and diesel vehicles made prior to 2006 are being targeted for their lack of efficient engines. Beginning later on in 2020, all older diesel and gas-powered cars will be banned from entering Madrid’s city center. Additionally, Paris policymakers have put a ban on all diesel vehicles older than 13 years old. Overall, over the next decade, the war on internal combustion engines is expected to escalate rapidly in Europe, while the U.S. on the other hand is projected to lag behind the rest of the world. Although, within the next half century, many energy analysts are predicting a dead end for all fossil fuel-powered transportation systems in major urban centers around the world.
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