A plan to improve the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles using existing low-cost technologies could hold the key to stabilising global carbon emissions, according to a group of international agencies. If governments, the fuel and vehicle industries, international organisations and civil society all co-operated, average vehicle fuel economy could be improved by 50 per cent by 2050, stabilising world carbon dioxide emissions at just above 2005 levels, said a report released on Wednesday at the Geneva Motor Show, in conjunction with the launch of an international campaign to put the study's recommendations into practice.
"We have set clear targets, which will have both environmental and economic benefits, and we already have the technology and the means to get us on the road to making our cars 50 per cent more fuel-efficient," said Jack Short, the secretary general of the International Transport Forum, one of the campaign's sponsors. "All that is needed are co-ordinated efforts and actions from both industry and governments."
The "50 by 50 Global Fuel Economy Initiative", which is also backed by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Britain's FIA Foundation, seeks first to achieve a 30 per cent average fuel economy improvement for new vehicles worldwide through improvements to the efficiencies of engines and drive trains, reduced vehicle weight and improved aerodynamics.
By 2030, a 50 per cent improvement is sought from further incremental design improvements and by the "full hybridisation" of most models of vehicles, which would combine the internal combustion engine with electric motors in cars for greater fuel efficiency. "Improving the efficiency of new cars at this rate would make possible a 50 per cent improvement in the average fuel economy of all cars on the road worldwide by 2050," the report predicted.
"We believe that the findings of this report are extremely significant," said the FIA Foundation, a non-profit federation of motoring organisations. "A move across the global fleet towards far better fuel economy at a scale which is already technically achievable could save over 6 billion barrels of oil per year by 2050, and close to half the carbon dioxide emissions from cars." "This is simply too good to ignore."
Speaking at the campaign launch, the IEA executive director, Nobuo Tanaka, said the study's findings presented a real opportunity for governments to combine support for the car industry during the economic downturn with measures to achieve environmental and energy policy goals. "We have to find ways to reconcile legitimate aspirations for mobility, an ambitious reduction in carbon dioxide from cars worldwide and global economic recovery," he said.
The UNEP executive director, Achim Steiner, who is also the under-secretary general of the UN, said the world's car fleet was expected to triple by 2050, with 80 per cent of the increase in developing economies, making transport a crucial sector in the transition to a low-carbon economy. He urged the world's car and vehicle component makers to join the fuel economy initiative. Although more advanced vehicle technologies such as electric motor drives and fuel cells would not be needed to meet the "50 by 50" target, they could contribute to additional improvements in new-car fuel economy, most probably after 2030, the report said.
It also found that without improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, global carbon dioxide emissions could double by 2050 under a "business as usual" scenario. Nonetheless, consumers are unlikely to demand a 50 per cent improvement in fuel economy without government intervention and industry action, making fuel economy regulation essential, the study added. Among developing countries, only China has fuel economy standards.
"As an increasing share of new vehicles will be sold in the developing world over the coming decades, it will be important for rapidly developing countries to establish their own fuel economy regulatory systems," the report said. But the good news in the developing world, it added, was the small size and light weight of most new cars likely to be sold there, providing "good opportunities for these vehicles to significantly reduce fuel consumption with conventional technologies".