human activity and the destruction of the planet

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The five major challenges facing electric vehicles

This is a piece published on the BBC website and written by Tim Schwanen, Transport Studies Unit, Oxford University:

Encouraging more people into electric vehicles is at the heart of the government’s efforts to tackle climate change.

That’s because transport accounts for 23% of the UK’s CO2 emissions – more than any other sector.


Sales of all-electric vehicles are up 70% on last year, leading to suggestions that we have reached a turning point. But there are good reasons to remain cautious.

1. Change takes time

One of the UK’s best-selling cars is the all-electric Tesla Model 3. But its success doesn’t change the fact that only about 1.1% of new cars sold this year are electric, and that the market for used electric vehicles hardly exists.

As it takes most UK drivers anywhere between one and 15 years to change their vehicles, many of us won’t be thinking about buying an electric model any time soon.

Target dates for ending the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles

Year Countries
2025 Norway
2030 Iceland, Ireland, Israel,
Slovenia, Netherlands
2035 Denmark
2040 UK, Sri Lanka, Spain,
Portugal, France, Canada
2050 Costa Rica

Includes bans that have been announced, proposed and put into law, and excludes countries with a target of only no full petrol or diesel vehicles (eg Japan) or a partial target (eg Mexico)

Source: IAE/BBC Briefing – energy

Bigger changes are needed. We will need many more places for charging electric vehicles, for example. And because fuel tax is an important source of income for the government – and electric vehicle users pay lower taxes – changes to the tax system may be required.

Individuals and businesses also need to be convinced that electric vehicles suit their needs. This is perhaps the hardest part.

The government aims to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2040, a target criticised by MPs who want the change made by 2030.

But even if these goals are met, it is likely to be decades before the most common vehicles on our roads are electric ones.

2. Limited choice

The number of vans on the UK’s roads is increasing faster than any other type of vehicle, in part because of the rapid growth in online shopping

Small e-vans are already available and the choice on offer is only likely to increase.

It is difficult to compare prices for diesel and e-vans. However, it can be significantly more expensive to lease an electric version of a popular van, than a diesel one. This is likely to mean that electric vans remain unaffordable for many small firms and self-employed delivery drivers for some time.

UK road transport emissions, by mode, 2016 (MtCO2)

Source: BEIS/BBC Briefing – energy

There is more choice for those looking for a new car, but electric vehicles are disproportionately aimed at the higher end of the market. Few all-electric models are available for less than £20,000, and buying a new Tesla Model 3 costs about £37,000.

Prices are likely to continue to fall and operating an electric vehicle tends to be cheaper than a petrol or diesel equivalent. But the higher upfront costs may stop many drivers from buying electric vehicles for the foreseeable future, even when a vibrant second-hand market emerges.

3. Backing the right technology

There are rapid developments in battery and charging technology, but this is causing deep uncertainty. Which charging technologies will become the gold standard?

This is a particular problem for people living in apartment blocks, or houses without a private parking space. Should they expect charging to be available at bollards or lamp posts along their street?

Perhaps home charging will not be as important as it is now. Should drivers use facilities at petrol stations, their office or in empty supermarket car parks at night?

Other options being explored include induction pads embedded in major roads, which charge cars as they drive over them.

BBC Briefing is a mini-series of downloadable guides to the big issues in the news, with input from academics, researchers and journalists. It is the BBC’s response to audiences demanding better explanation of the facts behind the headlines.

This uncertainty about which approach will become most common slows down private sector investment in charging infrastructure. It also makes the role of local authorities more difficult.

Acting too soon could mean betting on the wrong horse. Waiting too long could encourage more people into hybrid vehicles, which are less dependent on charging infrastructure, but still use fossil fuels.

4. Who will pay?

Even when a standard design for charging emerges, the age-old question of who will pay for installing it remains.

It is widely assumed that the private sector will build, operate and maintain charging infrastructure in the UK.

But businesses have long been slow to get involved, in part because profit margins remain small and government has heavily subsidised the development of charging points. This is slowly changing: BP and Shell have taken over market leaders Chargemaster and Newmotion, and Tesla is actively rolling out its own charging network at motorway service stations.

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Yet the question remains: how large should the government’s contribution be in future infrastructure development?

If getting people into electric vehicles is for the public good, should local government pay for charging points in areas where demand is too low to offer healthy profits?

And how should investment compare with that in social care, libraries or safe cycling routes, especially when local authority budgets remain as tight as they currently are?

5. The zero-carbon fantasy

Even 100% electric vehicles are not a zero-carbon solution.

They may not produce the usual exhaust pipe emissions, but even if all of the UK’s electricity was from renewable sources, there would still be an environmental cost.

Sourcing the minerals used for batteries, dismantling batteries which have deteriorated, and building and delivering vehicles to customers worldwide all involve substantial CO2 emissions. It is impossible to break all of the links.

Electric vehicles are a crucial part of the UK’s attempts to drastically reduce transport’s emissions. Yet they are no panacea.

A large shift away from motorised vehicles is the only way to fundamentally reduce transport’s contribution to climate change, however hard and politically unpalatable that may be.

Read more reports inspired by the BBC Briefing on energy.

About this piece

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.

Tim Schwanen is a professor of transport studies and geography. He is director of the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford.

You can follow him on Twitter here.

Edited by Duncan Walker

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West Midlands Combined Authority set climate change target and seek public engagement on it

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) set new climate change targets in July 2019, to reduce carbon emissions across the region.

Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, welcomed the targets as the “next important step” to a having credible plan to deal with the climate emergency declared by the WMCA Board in June.

The proposed target of reaching net-zero emissions no later than 2041 has been set independently, based on scientific evidence from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change.

Climate change target set for the region

Shorter term targets of a 36% reduction in carbon emissions by 2022 and a 69% reduction by 2027 have also been set to ensure steady progress.

The targets are intended to drive rapid action from businesses, local government and citizens in the region to reduce their emissions.

The financial cost of a transition to a zero carbon economy is estimated to be 1-2% of GDP, equivalent to £40 billion for the West Midlands over the period to 2041.

Meeting a net-zero target any sooner would require much more investment on top of that.

The WMCA Board is being asked to “commit to an inclusive transition which protects marginalised communities, maximises support for West Midlands businesses, and helps individuals to change their own behaviours.”

At present, carbon emissions in the West Midlands are split between transport (roughly a third), industry (a third) and domestic heating and electricity (a third).

All these areas will be addressed in the WMCA’s carbon reduction plan, which is being developed in consultation with groups such as Birmingham Youth Strike for Climate, and due for approval in autumn 2019.

The Mayor said: “It’s going to be tough, but we have to act fast. Setting these carbon targets is the next important step in our plan to deal with the climate emergency.

“We have a bigger challenge than Liverpool or Manchester because of our industrial heritage, but we also have a bigger opportunity to develop our low carbon businesses and create new jobs.

“Jaguar Land Rover’s investment in the Castle Bromwich factory to build the new all-electric Jaguar XJ is a brilliant example of what can be done to tackle climate change while creating well-paid jobs here in the region.

“Climate change is an issue which will affect future generations, and we must get on with delivering a serious plan to tackle it.”

Cllr Ian Courts, WMCA portfolio holder for the environment, energy and HS2 and leader of Solihull Council said: “Last month we declared a climate emergency in the West Midlands and now we have started to set out what that means in practice and the action we need to take.

“This is an important step towards regional collaboration which is going to be vital if we are to tackle climate change head on.”

Aaron Smith, from Birmingham Youth Strike for Climate, said: “This is the start of a long road and we hope this target will be reduced to nearer 2030, our recommendation.

“All latest reports, both political and scientific, confirm that we must act now instead of delaying our responsibility and commitment to climate action.”

January 2020:

The West Midlands Combined Authority published a consultation paper, in an attempt to engage with the public over its climate targets.  It can be found at:

Here is a passage from the document:

“The paper sets out five principles for the West Midlands that underpin our efforts to limit this impact. They are:

  1. We will make the journey to 2041 without leaving anyone behind
  2. We will boost our resilience to climate change
  3. Our future will respect our heritage
  4. We will build more places and more connectivity between places
  5. We will save energy and resources without reducing prosperity

The paper also contains 74 suggested actions that businesses, public bodies, individuals and the WMCA can take to limit the disastrous impacts of climate change and to make the region resilient to the effects we are already seeing.

The report is open for engagement for over six weeks (closing midnight Thursday 12 March 2020). Everyone is encouraged to read the document and feedback on the proposals to ensure any measures are truly reflective of the region we all live in.

To read the whole report, download the WMCA climate plan.

To read an overview of the report, download the one page briefing document.

To take part in the engagement exercise, visit our online survey, before midnight on Thursday 12 March 2020.”


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The Pros and Cons for Electric Cars

I have wanted to change my car for an electric one for a long time but I cannot afford a new car and second-hand electric and hybrid cars are also expensive.  I would have thought that, with the threat of climate change looming over us, the motor car industry would have come up with cheaper models long before now, as well as advice about how to change to using one. The motor industry seems to be more interested in promoting driver-less cars than those that run on clean energy. What support is available to help potential buyers to choose the right electric or hybrid car?  And what do you need to know to adapt from a petrol car to an electric car and operate it successfully?  Very little information in this country – though some Scandinavian countries have embraced the era of electric cars much more readily than the UK.  (Norway, Sweden, Germany, China and the US all offer some kind of financial incentive to encourage the ownership of an electric car).

But now things have changed, thanks to the Financial Times.  An article published on August 31st 2018, by the FT, entitled “Should you buy an electric car?”, goes into all the ins and outs of it.  See:

It describes all the different kinds and their options and lists the disadvantages of them.  However, despite the disadvantages, it would seem that people who have bought an electric vehicle never want to go back to a petrol-driven one again. And, whilst they may be more expensive to buy, they are much cheaper to run – a figure of £3,000 per year savings has been quoted.

Do read the article.  It doesn’t answer all my questions but it’s a start. Well done Financial Times.  And, do catch up British motor industry!

But, before you rush out to buy one, do read the Which report, “How far can electric cars really go on a single charge?”  They tested a number of cars on the market and found that their ranges in almost all cases were not so far as those claimed for them.

Read more: – Which?

electric car charging


8th Sep 2018:

And now a new report from The Times, entitled “Around the world in an electric car”It lists the nine governments around the world which are offering incentives to people buying electric cars.  They include Norway, Austria, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, USA.  Full details at:

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Electric Cars and their need for cobalt

An article in the Financial Times by David Pillings last week identified a growing problem associated with the mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With the increase in the production of electric cars, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, there is an increasing demand for cobalt, used in their batteries. The greatest availability for cobalt appears to be in the Congo, a country riven with conflict, corruption and extreme poverty.  Whilst an increased demand for cobalt ought to help the country in tackling poverty, this is apparently not happening. Some of the wealth has apparently disappeared and the rest has gone into the pockets of the foreign mining companies.

The Congo is rich in many minerals: gold, diamonds, tin, coltan, copper and cobalt.  Local Congolese may have the benefit of working in these mines but they are paid very little and the work is dangerous.  Many of them are children.

And it is not only electric car batteries that need cobalt.  All kinds of other gadgets make use of it: cell phones, tablets, laptops and other portable electronic gadgets However, very few people know that cobalt, the element needed to produce these batteries, is the product of underpaid adults and children working in sub-human conditions in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is the source of about half of the world’s production of cobalt.


child workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Quite clearly, if electric cars are to be the vehicles of the future, urgent investigations into the practice of corporate mining companies need to be made.