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Electrification of light-duty vehicle fleet alone will not meet mitigation targets

Abstract

Climate change mitigation strategies are often technology-oriented, and electric vehicles (EVs) are a good example of something believed to be a silver bullet. Here we show that current US policies are insufficient to remain within a sectoral CO2 emission budget for light-duty vehicles, consistent with preventing more than 2 °C global warming, creating a mitigation gap of up to 19 GtCO2 (28% of the projected 2015–2050 light-duty vehicle fleet emissions). Closing the mitigation gap solely with EVs would require more than 350 million on-road EVs (90% of the fleet), half of national electricity demand and excessive amounts of critical materials to be deployed in 2050. Improving average fuel consumption of conventional vehicles, with stringent standards and weight control, would reduce the requirement for alternative technologies, but is unlikely to fully bridge the mitigation gap. There is therefore a need for a wide range of policies that include measures to reduce vehicle ownership and usage.

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Fig. 1: 2015–2050 US light-duty fleet cumulative CO2 emissions versus CO2 budget under prospective future developments.
Fig. 2: EV deployment requirements.
Fig. 3: Powering EVs.

Data availability

The datasets generated during the study are available in a Zenodo repository (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3982990) (ref. 60).

Code availability

The source code for the model developed in this study can be accessed on request. It uses the open-source Fleet Life Cycle Assessment and Material-Flow Estimation (FLAME) model, available in a Zenodo repository (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2548012)61.

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Acknowledgements

This work was co-funded by the Hatch Graduate Scholarship for Sustainable Energy Research, a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant and the University of Toronto Dean’s Strategic Fund. Views expressed in this work are those of the authors alone. We thank P. Kyle at the Joint Global Change Research Institute for providing the GCAM results and helping us to process them.

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All authors conceived and planned the study. A.M. collected the data, developed the code and ran the simulations. All authors analysed data and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Alexandre Milovanoff.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–33, Tables 1–9, methods, results and discussion.

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Milovanoff, A., Posen, I.D. & MacLean, H.L. Electrification of light-duty vehicle fleet alone will not meet mitigation targets. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 1102–1107 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-00921-7

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