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7. All states shall swiftly adopt maximally stringent efficiency standards for cars, trucks, ships, and aircraft.

Rapporteur: Liz Couture

Efficiency standards refer to the fuel efficiency standards as legislated by countries that produce fossil fuel burning vehicles. Of course the most stringent policy possible is 100% efficiency, or vehicles that emit zero emissions. This is not an easy policy to enact in law, as it takes time for transition. The longer term ideal goal, then, is to achieve zero emission vehicles over the next three decades, by 2050 by all the countries of the world.

It is easier and cheaper to redesign or convert some vehicles (and their associated infrastructure) than others, and so the maximum stringency level of efficiency possible will vary between manufacturing of cars, buses, trains, ships, and airplanes.

The urgency with which to get to maximum standards, indeed zero emissions, cannot be overstated.

For purposes of discussion, assume that the following current transportation vehicles for living, working, and playing are the most threatening to planetary health, not only because of the excess greenhouse gas emissions due to widespread use, but also because of increased anticipated demand:

  • Commute - car, train, mass transit bus, small plane
  • Business - car, train, truck, airplane, commercial cargo ships
  • Pleasure - car, train, mobile home, airplane, passenger cruise ship

Given that many efficiencies have already been realized over the years in all of the above vehicles, and that more efficiencies are anticipated, assume that it is possible to convert all of the above technologies, replacing them with alternative energy, low carbon vehicles. Hence the “live, work, and play” future needs would thus be satisfied by the following low carbon and/or zero emissions replacements:

  • Commute - e-car, e-train (regular or high speed), e-bus
  • Business - e-car, e-train (regular or high speed), train, e-truck, streamlined ship
  • Pleasure - e-car, bicycle, e-bicycle, (high speed) electric train, streamlined ship

A group of scientists have completed calculations for the book, DRAWDOWN: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. The solutions are grouped by sector, and the transportation sector solutions include discussions and rankings for the following solutions: Mass Transit (buses), High-Speed Rail (e-trains), Transport Ships (commercial cargo), Electric Vehicles (e-cars and hybrids), Ride-sharing, Electric Bikes, Cars, Airplanes, Trucks, and Telepresence. Each solution has been extensively researched, based on existing reports, data, and successes from around the world.

Each solution is described in about two pages, and is summarized with three figures: 1) the number of gigatons of reduced carbon dioxide by 2050, 2) the net cost, and 3) the net savings, as well as a ranking. For example, Electric Vehicles has a ranking of #26 (out of 80-100 total solutions in the book), with an anticipated 10.8 gigatons of reduced CO2 by the year 2050; with an estimated $14.15 trillion net cost if scaled to the estimated 400 million sold by 2040 (a projection by Bloomberg); and with a total anticipated $9.73 trillion dollars of net savings.

The summary reads like this: “IMPACTS: In 2014, 305,000 EV’s (Electric vehicles) were sold. If EV usage rises to 16 per cent of total passenger miles by 2050, 10.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion could be avoided. Our analysis accounts for emissions from electricity generation and higher emissions of producing EV’s compared to internal-combustion cars. We include slightly declining EV prices, expected due to declining battery costs.” (DRAWDOWN, Page 142)

To save the world, we need to be at the level of net zero emissions by 2050, so much more change is needed than merely increasing EV (Electric Vehicle) use to 16% of total passenger miles. The above description for electric cars does give hope, however, as do the efficiencies in the other industries, whether the vehicles are converted to electric or not. But note that it has been said that in order to transition to a low-carbon world, we need a mass mobilization effort like that during World War 2. The maximum stringency standards required for transportation vehicles to meet their emissions reduction targets, would in fact need to be zero. Dissent must be expected about this target, and understandably so, considering the massive economic overhaul that would have to take place in the auto and other vehicle industries as well as the oil industry.

Indeed, much else is needed — including shifts in global cooperation, mass consciousness toward ecological priorities, and financing.

Any country that produces vehicles needs access to the technology to redesign them for more fuel efficiency through the use of lighter materials, calibrated engines and parts, and combinations of fuel and electric hybrids. Otherwise, they should be completely redesigned to take advantage of low-cost electricity and battery storage technology that is now not only available, but at much lower cost than in years past. Maximally stringent efficiency standards are only as good as what is available anywhere in the world.There need to be ways of sharing technological knowledge and resources with any country attempting to reach their carbon emissions reduction targets.Ideally, every single country should be converting to electric vehicles. There are several opportunities to discuss this with global decision makers, including annual economic summits, and the Conference of the Parties (COP), where for example, world leaders met in Paris in 2015 and set targets for the next decades. Governments of countries of the world are attempting to meet these “Paris Targets” using legislation and carbon markets.

Countries can be encouraged to adopt the maximally stringent standards through carbon pricing legislation or regulation. Carbon pricing (whether by carbon taxation, cap and trade, or some other means, is supposed to send a clear message to the long-term markets that there is actually underway an economic transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Stringency standards can also be imposed by government regulations, usually on a sector-by-sector basis. Carbon pricing and regulations are not in the purview of the policy plank being discussed here, but should be mentioned because of the urgency of the timeframe for change. According to the 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) report, there are about 10-12 years left for the world to radically reduce global carbon emissions. Therefore, urgency dictates that carbon pricing, as well as regulation, be used to incentivize the markets to save costs on fuel for vehicles.Much additional information is available.1).

At a national level, countries are not fully in agreement as to who should adopt which levels of stringency regulations.Most of them are willing to commit to lower targets than other countries, sometimes for political reasons. For example, at the COP 21 in Paris, India resisted agreeing to set targets to convert energy sources away from the cheap option of coal plants,arguing that, as a developing economy, they should have the same opportunity to use cheap, non-clean energy because developed countries did so, and it is only fair that their developing country have the same opportunity. After all, it is the developed countries that have emitted the excess carbon in the atmosphere.2)

As previously mentioned, to save the world from the extensive carbon pollution from vehicles will require more radical measures. It is essential for emissions levels to fall to net zero. This requires industries immediately to begin changing all vehicles to clean energy technology — i.e. electricity made from non-coal, oil, or gas sources — and overhauling the transportation sectors of all global economies. It is necessary to include all vehicles, such as buses, trucks, and personal vehicles, but airplanes will be the big challenge, given the existing technology and the expected increase in tourist travel demand as the developing world's economies improve.Every car plant and vehicle production method will need to be considered for either shut-down or shut-down and re-tooling. Such a task cannot be done even within the next decade, but plans must begin right away. However, since electric car plants already exist, the transportation sector has a good head start. About 70% of freight is moved by trucks, using 50 billion gallons of diesel per year — more than 25% of the fuel, and accounting for 6% of all emissions worldwide. In Drawdown, Transport Trucks are ranked at #40 out of 80-100 solutions, with respect to the opportunity to create fuel-saving technology. (Drawdown, pg 153). But fuel efficiency conversion costs are relatively low whereas fuel is costly, so fuel-saving yields a big financial return over the life of the truck.Thus fuel efficiency regulations and standards for the transport trucks are a worthwhile endeavour.Then, over time, plans can be made to completely overhaul trucks to electric motors.

SMART Solutions for the Transportation Sector

The fossil fuel-burning vehicles within the global transportation sector need to fully transition to non-gasoline, non-diesel, and non-jet-fuel sources such as electric energy , hydrogen cell, and/or biofuel in a SMART way.

The commonly used SMART acronym suggests that “To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time-bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).“3)

Here is what a SMART plan will entail for transportation:

Part of the Plan:

Specific: By 2050, all cars, buses, and trucks will have converted to net zero emissions. By 2030, the manufacturing plants closures or re-tooling conversions will occur.

Measurable: By 2050, no plants will be producing fossil fuel-burning vehicles. Furthermore, 100% of the materials recovered from the decommissioned trucks, buses, and cars will be recycled and used to create electric trucks, buses, cars, e-bikes, and e-personal vehicles (including vehicles for physically challenged). Priority will be given to create those vehicles that can solve the public transportation problem of “the last mile,” where people can easily get along the major arterial routes but not as easily through the rural roads or suburban streets. This applies to the Americas more than the developing countries, and consideration must be given to the emerging economies of Asia. The measurements may be based on the template of solutions from DRAWDOWN, with three parts: 1) gigatons of emissions prevented by replacing the old vehicles with new technology; 2) the cost to implement the changes to the plants, with the savings of using recycled materials; 3) the benefits in terms of actual dollars saved from switching to renewable energy and cutting the externalized costs.

Achievable: The countries of the world need to reach agreement at the next COP. The political will can come from people who use the vehicles: businesses with high transportation fuel costs, motorists who intend to continue driving cars, tourists with high carbon footprints but who want to travel without injuring the planet.For this, a campaign is required to reach selected economic players. This is achievable through legislation reflecting a global awakening as to the urgency of reducing carbon emissions by 45% by the year 2030.

The IPCC Press Release of October 8, 2018 notes that the transportation sector must radically change. It states that “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require 'rapid and far-reaching' transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.”4) Such calculations are beyond the scope of this article, but the numbers are presumably available elsewhere. Information for businesses, citizens, and government can be found in the book, The Price of Carbon by David Maenz5), and the supporting documents and reports for the book, DRAWDOWN by Paul Hawken6) et al.

Relevant: the fossil fuel-burning vehicles around the world have made life more convenient for all of humanity, but the inconvenient truth is that all of humanity is harmed by the greenhouse gas they emit. Therefore, a mobilization like wartime is needed to transform the plants that build vehicles, as well as those that produce their fuel. Airplane fuel will likely require more biofuels than the electric battery and hydrogen cell technology, but otherwise the technology is already available, and so the decision-making by the world leaders can begin immediately.

Timing: the timeframes being discussed in global summit meetings and books by prominent scientists propose the years 2030 for major targets and 2050 as net zero targets. The Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 agreed to dates that were based on scientific models.7) The UNIPCC report as of 2018 gave an even stronger warning, stating that there are 10-12 years left to make radical emissions reductions. This brings us closer to the year 2030, when overhauls must be completed.


For information on Carbon Pricing in Canada, see, a group of non-partisan economists discussing various types of political responses and geo-economic considerations, as well as the book, “The Case for a Carbon Tax”, by Shi-Ling Hsui
See the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth Sequel, Truth to Power, story of Al Gore at the Paris 2015 COP, produced by Jeff Skoll
United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Press Release, 8 October 2018
The Price of Carbon, Maenz, Dr. David, One Ton Press, 2017, Chapter 5, section 5.4 Emissions Reduction Pathways in the Transportation Sector, page 164-172
DRAWDOWN: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, (Project Drawdown), Edited by Paul Hawken, Penguin, New York, 2017, Section 6 TRANSPORT pages 136-156 (covering Mass Transit, High-Speed Rail, Ships, Electric Vehicles, Ride-sharing, Electric Bikes, Cars, Airplanes, Trucks, Telepresence, and Trains, respectively)
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