Green Vehicles: Net-Zero Emissions

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made clear that any increase in warming beyond 1.5oC by the end of the century would have significant implications. Accordingly, in order to achieve this goal, the world needs to halve carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by approximately 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.   

As attested by “Vision 2050”, published recently by the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT), the transportation sector accounts for approximately one-quarter of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. They project that:

  • Present-day, (Roughly, 2019 – 2022) CO2-e emissions from transportation globally will rise to 11.9 Gt .3; and
  • The four largest vehicle markets, in terms of new vehicle sales—United States, China, the European Union, and India—account for 46 percent of global CO2 emissions from transportation.

The graph presented below illustrates the configuration of emissions by percentage in 2020:

Concentrating exclusively on the emissions related to “On-Road Vehicles”, it’s calculated to be 77 percent of the total global emissions emitted by the transportation sector.

There are approximately 18 million passenger vehicles – cars, pickups, minivans, and sport vehicles – on Canadian roads which are used for personal transportation.  Like anywhere else, the vast majority of passenger vehicles in Canada operate using gasoline.  These vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution, particularly in urban areas.  While emissions of some pollutants from passenger vehicles have declined over the past two decades, air pollution continues to be one of Canada’s highest environmental priorities and challenges.

Looking at the bigger picture, there were approximately 1.42 billion passenger vehicles in the world. These vehicles emitted 2.23 billion metric tons (equivalent to 4.92 trillion pounds) of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere in 2018. To put that into perspective, that’s equivalent to burning all of the coal in a fully-loaded coal train that stretches 392,000 miles, long enough to wrap almost 15.7 times around the earth at the equator.

Likewise, these vehicles on the road needed a set of new tires about every 2 years, or 2.84 billion tires annually, and those 2.84 billion tires consumed over half of the earth’s rubber production, which of course burned even more fuel and cause even more pollution.

Here is a reality, greenhouse gases (GHGs) are emitted from the tailpipes of cars and trucks that combust fuel.  Once GHGs are released, they can stay in the atmosphere for 100 years or more.  GHGs act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm. This can change:

  • Earth’s climate;
  • Raise sea levels; and
  • Result in dangerous effects to human health and welfare, and to ecosystems.

At the same time cars and trucks that combust fuel also emits smog forming emissions, such as nitrogen oxide, non-methane organic gases, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and formaldehyde:

  • These emissions are usually trapped close to the ground and can form a brownish haze that pollutes the air, particularly over cities in the summertime; and
  • Smog can make it difficult for some people to breathe, triggering lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, which may lead to premature death.

Regardless of the progress on reducing CO2 per vehicle-kilometer (VKT), public health impacts from transportation emissions have continued to rise. The number of deaths between 2010 and 2015 attributed to transportation-related fine particle and ozone pollution worldwide increased from 361,000 to 385,000, with most of premature deaths (86 percent) attributable to ambient fine particulate matter (PM), and the remainder attributable to ozone.  It should be kept in mind that:

  • Particulate Matter: Contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Some particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream; and
  • Ozone: When inhaled, ozone can cause a variety of health problems and risks, including: Throat Irritation, Chest Pain, Coughing Shortness of Breath or Other Breathing difficulties Lung Irritation or even damage Respiratory Infections worsening of asthma symptoms.

Based on these estimates, the transportation sector accounted for approximately 11 percent of total global mortality attributable to these pollutants from all sources in 2015. Overall, it is estimated that exposure to transportation emissions resulted in 7.8 million years of life lost and approximately $1 trillion in health damages globally in 2015.

Vehicles that operate primarily on gasoline or diesel have historically accounted for over 99 percent of cars and passenger trucks around the world.  However, sales of cars that operate on other fuels — particularly electricity — are growing. New models of both electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are entering the market in increasing numbers each year.

The following graph illustrates the breakdown:

A new study conducted by the Technical University of Eindhoven on behalf of the Green Party in the German Bundestag, disclosed that currently sold electric cars are responsible for significantly lower CO2 emissions compared to internal combustion engines (ICE).  These figures take into account both the production and the use of the vehicles. A Tesla Model 3, for example, produces 91 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilometre, which is 65 percent less than the 260 grams of a Mercedes C 220d. According to the study, Model 3 has thus already made up for its CO2 deficit due to the production of the battery after driving 30,000 kilometres.

The main findings of another study, reported by the BBC News, envisage that in 2050 every second car on the streets of the world could be electric. This would reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 1.5 gigatonnes per year, which is equivalent to the total current CO2 emissions of Russia.

Electric vehicles are also known as green vehicles.


A green vehicle is defined as a clean vehicle, eco-friendly vehicle or environmentally friendly vehicle is a road motor vehicle that produces less harmful impacts to the environment than comparable conventional internal combustion engine vehicles running on gasoline or diesel, or one that uses certain alternative fuels.  Green vehicles can be powered by alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies and include:

  • Hybrid Electric Vehicles: It is a type of vehicle that uses both an electric engine and a conventional internal combustion engine;
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles: It is a hybrid electric vehicle whose battery can be recharged by plugging a charging cable into an external electric power source, in addition to internally by its on-board internal combustion engine-powered generator; 
  • Battery Electric Vehicles:  A battery electric vehicle, pure electric vehicle, only-electric vehicle or all-electric vehicle is a type of electric vehicle that exclusively uses chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs, with no secondary source of propulsion (e.g. hydrogen fuel cell, internal combustion engine, etc.);
  • Compressed-Air Vehicles:  It is a transport mechanism fueled by tanks of pressurized atmospheric gas and propelled by the release and expansion of the gas within a Pneumatic motor;
  • Hydrogen and Fuel-Cell Vehicles:  It is an alternative fuel vehicle that uses hydrogen as its onboard fuel. Hydrogen vehicles’ powertrains convert the chemical energy of hydrogen to mechanical energy by burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine or by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to run electric motors;
  • Neat Ethanol Vehicles:  These vehicles operate with an internal combustion engine built to run on pure ethanol;
  • Flexible-Fuel Vehicles:  These vehicles can run on gasoline or a gasoline-ethanol blend containing up to 85 percent ethanol;
  • Natural Gas Vehicles:  It is an alternative fuel vehicle that uses compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG); and
  • Clean Diesel Vehicles:  Clean diesel is low in sulfurs, which mean that the engines burn the liquid more cleanly, and, so long as the engine itself is designed to be environmentally friendly, will pollute the environment a lot less than ordinary systems.
Source: hyndaicanada/2021/sonata

It is an indisputable fact that the largest source of GHG emissions from human activities is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Consequently, governments and automakers around the world are committed to promote electric vehicles as a key technology to curb oil use and fight climate change.

The good news is that:

  • General Motors (GM) is committed to stop selling new gasoline-powered cars and light trucks by 2035 and will pivot to battery-powered models.  GM also declared that it would phase out petroleum-powered cars and trucks and sell only vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035, a seismic shift by one of the world’s largest automakers that makes billions of dollars today from gas-guzzling pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles;
  • Ford Motor has opened a major new front in the battle to dominate the fast-growing electric vehicle market, and it’s banking on one of the world’s most powerful business franchises.  Ford Motors unveiled an electric version of its popular F-150 pickup truck called the Lightning.  Ford’s F-Series trucks, including the F-150, make up the top-selling vehicle line in the United States, and typically generate about $42 billion a year in revenue, according to a study commissioned by Ford — or more than twice what McDonald’s brought in last year;
  • BMW joins other leading automakers including PSA Group, Groupe Renault and Mercedes-Benz AG, which all have approved science-based targets, while Toyota Motor Corporation and Nissan Motor have committed to set targets; and
  • Also last year, German automaker Volkswagen (VW) accelerated plans to electrify its fleet, committing to launch 70 fully electric models by 2028, up from an earlier pledge to sell 50 by 2025. VW also set long-term ambitions to make the entire company CO2-neutral by 2050, including its factories, offices and cars. Meanwhile Volvo is making progress on its commitment to phase out purely petrol and diesel power cars and EV-pioneer Tesla has now become the most valuable automaker by market cap.
Source: BBC World Service

These commitments made by the major automakers to accelerating the transition to the zero-carbon transport future come as many of the world’s largest automakers race to electrify their fleets and cut emissions. Together these moves send a powerful signal that the transport sector is reengineering to meet demand growth for electric vehicles, while addressing the urgent need to act on air pollution and climate change.

Additionally, auto manufacturers have announced over $150 billion in investments to achieve collective production targets of more than 13 million electric vehicles annually around 2025, according to the ICCT, though much more could be in the pipeline.

But the bad news is that:

  • The recent 2021 Banking on Climate Chaos report found that in the 5 years since the Paris Agreement, the world’s 60 biggest banks have financed fossil fuels to the tune of $3.8 trillion. Runaway funding for fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure fuels climate chaos and threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions. As a matter of course, financing fossil fuels in trillions will make it harder, if not impossible, to meet the overall commitments for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Here is a graph, illustrating Top 12 Banks Financing Fossil Fuels Globally 2016-2020:
Source: Banking Chaos

It’s worth knowing that green vehicles are quieter than their internal combustion engine-having counterparts. The only noises green vehicles usually generate are caused by wind resistance or tire noises, and that is only at moderate to higher speeds.  Unfortunately, this distinctive characteristic of green vehicles is turning out to be a huge challenge for the pedestrians who are blind or have low vision rely largely on their sense of hearing to determine whether it’s safe to move forward through cross roads.  Being able to hear these sounds can mean the difference between taking the first step onto the road and crossing safely, or being injured – perhaps killed.

No doubt concerns are growing that quiet-running vehicles pose a hazard to visually impaired pedestrians.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally the number of all ages visually impaired is estimated to be 285 million.   

Meanwhile, the issue is drawing attention from the auto industry, lawmakers, and regulators around the world. It even spawned at least one Silicon Valley start-up that’s trying to develop an audible pedestrian warning system for hybrids.

It’s also to be worth considering that a rapid shift by the auto industry to green vehicles could lead to job losses and business failures in related areas. Needless to say that green vehicles don’t have transmissions or need oil changes, meaning conventional service stations will have to retool what they do. Green Vehicles also require fewer workers to make, putting traditional manufacturing jobs at risk. At the same time, the move to green vehicles will spark a boom in areas like battery manufacturing, mining and charging stations.

Kanata, Ontario, Canada 11 June 2021