Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time


The electrification of passenger road transport and household heating features prominently in current and planned policy frameworks to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. However, since electricity generation involves using fossil fuels, it is not established where and when the replacement of fossil-fuel-based technologies by electric cars and heat pumps can effectively reduce overall emissions. Could electrification policies backfire by promoting their diffusion before electricity is decarbonized? Here we analyse current and future emissions trade-offs in 59 world regions with heterogeneous households, by combining forward-looking integrated assessment model simulations with bottom-up life-cycle assessments. We show that already under current carbon intensities of electricity generation, electric cars and heat pumps are less emission intensive than fossil-fuel-based alternatives in 53 world regions, representing 95% of the global transport and heating demand. Even if future end-use electrification is not matched by rapid power-sector decarbonization, it will probably reduce emissions in almost all world regions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Projections of global future technology diffusion in power generation, passenger road transport and household heating.
Fig. 2: Boundary conditions for the use of EVs and HPs.
Fig. 3: GHG emission intensities of passenger cars.
Fig. 4: GHG emission intensities in household heating.
Fig. 5: Relative GHG emission intensities of EVs and HPs around the world.
Fig. 6: Changes in global GHG emissions from EVs and HPs.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The main data that support the findings of this study are available as supplementary tables. Additional data are available from the corresponding authors upon request.

Code availability

The computer code used to generate the results that are reported in this study are available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.


  1. de Coninck, H. et al. in Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) 313–443 (IPCC, WMO, 2018).

  2. International Energy Agency Global EV Outlook 2017 (IEA/OECD, 2017).

  3. Clarke, L. E. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) 413–510 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014);

  4. Kennedy, C. Key threshold for electricity emissions. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 179–181 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Rogelj, J. et al. in Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) 93–174 (IPCC, WMO, 2018).

  6. International Energy Agency CO 2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion (OECD/IEA, 2017).

  7. Energy Agenda—Towards a Low-Carbon Energy Supply (Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, 2017);

  8. Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources—Analysis of the Final Compromise Text with a View to Agreement (Council of the European Union, 2018);

  9. Cox, B., Mutel, C. L., Bauer, C., Mendoza Beltran, A. & van Vuuren, D. P. Uncertain environmental footprint of current and future battery electric vehicles. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 4989–4995 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Mattinen, M. K., Nissinen, A., Hyysalo, S. & Juntunen, J. K. Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of air-source heat pump and innovative ground-source air heat pump in a cold climate. J. Ind. Ecol. 19, 61–70 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. McGee, P. Electric cars’ green image blackens beneath the bonnet. Financial Times (8 November 2017);

  12. Sinn, H.-W. Are electric vehicles really so climate friendly? The Guardian (25 November 2019);

  13. Mercure, J.-F., Pollitt, H., Bassi, A. M., Viñuales, J. E. & Edwards, N. R. Modelling complex systems of heterogeneous agents to better design sustainability transitions policy. Glob. Environ. Change 37, 102–115 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Thiel, C., Perujo, A. & Mercier, A. Cost and CO2 aspects of future vehicle options in Europe under new energy policy scenarios. Energy Policy 38, 7142–7151 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Miotti, M., Supran, G. J., Kim, E. J. & Trancik, J. E. Personal vehicles evaluated against climate change mitigation targets. Environ. Sci. Technol. 50, 10795–10804 (2016).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Onat, N. C., Kucukvar, M. & Tatari, O. Conventional, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles? State-based comparative carbon and energy footprint analysis in the United States. Appl. Energy 150, 36–49 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Bauer, C., Hofer, J., Althaus, H.-J., Del Duce, A. & Simons, A. The environmental performance of current and future passenger vehicles: life cycle assessment based on a novel scenario analysis framework. Appl. Energy 157, 871–883 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Jochem, P., Babrowski, S. & Fichtner, W. Assessing CO2 emissions of electric vehicles in Germany in 2030. Transp. Res. A 78, 68–83 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Wu, Y. et al. Energy consumption and CO2 emission impacts of vehicle electrification in three developed regions of China. Energy Policy 48, 537–550 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Archsmith, J., Kendall, A. & Rapson, D. From cradle to junkyard: assessing the life cycle greenhouse gas benefits of electric vehicles. Res. Transp. Econ. 52, 72–90 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hawkins, T. R., Gausen, O. M. & Strømman, A. H. Environmental impacts of hybrid and electric vehicles—a review. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 17, 997–1014 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Woo, J., Choi, H. & Ahn, J. Well-to-wheel analysis of greenhouse gas emissions for electric vehicles based on electricity generation mix: a global perspective. Transp. Res. D 51, 340–350 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Saner, D. et al. Is it only CO2 that matters? A life cycle perspective on shallow geothermal systems. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 14, 1798–1813 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Kikuchi, E., Bristow, D. & Kennedy, C. A. Evaluation of region-specific residential energy systems for GHG reductions: case studies in Canadian cities. Energy Policy 37, 1257–1266 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Mendoza Beltran, A. et al. When the background matters: using scenarios from integrated assessment models in prospective life cycle assessment. J. Ind. Ecol. 24, 64–79 (2020).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Mercure, J.-F. et al. Environmental impact assessment for climate change policy with the simulation-based integrated assessment model E3ME-FTT-GENIE. Energy Strategy Rev. 20, 195–208 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Mercure, J.-F. et al. Macroeconomic impact of stranded fossil fuel assets. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 588–593 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Mercure, J.-F. & Lam, A. The effectiveness of policy on consumer choices for private road passenger transport emissions reductions in six major economies. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 064008 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Mercure, J.-F., Lam, A., Billington, S. & Pollitt, H. Integrated assessment modelling as a positive science: private passenger road transport policies to meet a climate target well below 2 °C. Climatic Change 151, 109–129 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Knobloch, F., Pollitt, H., Chewpreecha, U., Daioglou, V. & Mercure, J.-F. Simulating the deep decarbonisation of residential heating for limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. Energy Effic. 12, 521–550 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Holden, P. B. et al. Climate–carbon cycle uncertainties and the Paris Agreement. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 609–613 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Heat Pumps Technology Brief (Energy Technology Systems Analysis Programme (ETSAP) of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), 2013).

  33. Schlömer, S. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds. Edenhofer, O. et al.) 1329–1356 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  34. Ciez, R. E. & Whitacre, J. F. Examining different recycling processes for lithium-ion batteries. Nat. Sustain. 2, 148–156 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Dale, M. & Benson, S. M. Energy balance of the global photovoltaic (PV) industry—is the PV industry a net electricity producer? Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 3482–3489 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Liu, J. et al. Systems integration for global sustainability. Science 347, 1258832 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. Jordan, A. & Lenschow, A. Environmental policy integration: a state of the art review. Environ. Policy Gov. 20, 147–158 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Sterner, T. et al. Policy design for the Anthropocene. Nat. Sustain. 2, 14–21 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Muratori, M. Impact of uncoordinated plug-in electric vehicle charging on residential power demand. Nat. Energy 3, 193–201 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Richardson, D. B. Electric vehicles and the electric grid: a review of modeling approaches, impacts, and renewable energy integration. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 19, 247–254 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Fischer, D. & Madani, H. On heat pumps in smart grids: a review. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 70, 342–357 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Chen, X. et al. Impacts of fleet types and charging modes for electric vehicles on emissions under different penetrations of wind power. Nat. Energy 3, 413–421 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  43. Tamayao, M. A. M., Michalek, J. J., Hendrickson, C. & Azevedo, I. M. L. Regional variability and uncertainty of electric vehicle life cycle CO2 emissions across the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 8844–8855 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  44. Hertwich, E. G. et al. Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 6277–6282 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. Gibon, T., Arvesen, A. & Hertwich, E. G. Life cycle assessment demonstrates environmental co-benefits and trade-offs of low-carbon electricity supply options. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 76, 1283–1290 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Pehl, M. et al. Understanding future emissions from low-carbon power systems by integration of life-cycle assessment and integrated energy modelling. Nat. Energy 2, 939–945 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Pauliuk, S., Arvesen, A., Stadler, K. & Hertwich, E. G. Industrial ecology in integrated assessment models. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 13–20 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Gibon, T. et al. A methodology for integrated, multiregional life cycle assessment scenarios under large-scale technological change. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 11218–11226 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  49. Creutzig, F. et al. Bioenergy and climate change mitigation: an assessment. GCB Bioenergy 7, 916–944 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  50. Cox, B., Mutel, C. L., Bauer, C., Mendoza Beltran, A. & van Vuuren, D. P. Uncertain environmental footprint of current and future battery electric vehicles. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 4989–4995 (2018).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  51. Wernet, G. et al. The ecoinvent database version 3 (part I): overview and methodology. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 1218–1230 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Zhang, S. et al. Real-world fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by driving conditions for light-duty passenger vehicles in China. Energy 69, 247–257 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. Duarte, G. O., Gonçalves, G. A. & Farias, T. L. Analysis of fuel consumption and pollutant emissions of regulated and alternative driving cycles based on real-world measurements. Transp. Res. D 44, 43–54 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Tietge, U., Mock, P., Franco, V. & Zacharof, N. From laboratory to road: modeling the divergence between official and real-world fuel consumption and CO2 emission values in the German passenger car market for the years 2001–2014. Energy Policy 103, 212–222 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Fontaras, G., Zacharof, N. G. & Ciuffo, B. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from passenger cars in Europe—laboratory versus real-world emissions. Prog. Energy Combust. Sci. 60, 97–131 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends—1975 Through 2014 (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2018);

  57. Solid and Gaseous Bioenergy Pathways: Input Values and GHG Emissions (Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, 2014);

  58. Well-to-Wheels Analysis of Future Automotive Fuels and Powertrains in the European Context (Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, 2014);

  59. Upstream Emissions of Fossil Fuel Feedstocks for Transport Fuels Consumed in the European Union (International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), 2014);

  60. International Energy Agency. Technology Roadmap—Energy-Efficient Buildings: Heating and Cooling Equipment (IEA/OECD, 2011).

  61. European Commission. Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 811/2013 of 18 February 2013 supplementing Directive 2010/30/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to the energy labelling of space heaters, combination heaters, packages of space heater, temperature control and solar device and packages of combination heater, temperature control and solar device. Off. J. Eur. Union L 239/1, 1–81 (2013).

  62. Space Heating and Cooling—Technology Brief R02 (IEA Energy Technology Systems Analysis Program, 2012).

  63. Hauck, M., Steinmann, Z. J. N., Laurenzi, I. J., Karuppiah, R. & Huijbregts, M. A. J. How to quantify uncertainty and variability in life cycle assessment: the case of greenhouse gas emissions of gas power generation in the US. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 074005 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  64. Steinmann, Z. J. N., Hauck, M., Karuppiah, R., Laurenzi, I. J. & Huijbregts, M. A. J. A methodology for separating uncertainty and variability in the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of coal-fueled power generation in the USA. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 19, 1146–1155 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  65. Knobloch, F., Mercure, J.-F., Pollitt, H., Chewpreecha, U. & Lewney, R. in Technical Study on the Macroeconomics of Energy and Climate Policies (European Commission, DG Energy, 2017);

  66. Mercure, J.-F. Fashion, fads and the popularity of choices: micro-foundations for diffusion consumer theory. Struct. Change Econ. Dyn. 46, 194–207 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Rogers, E. M. Diffusion of Innovations (Simon and Schuster, 2010).

  68. Wilson, C. Up-scaling, formative phases, and learning in the historical diffusion of energy technologies. Energy Policy 50, 81–94 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Mercure, J.-F. FTT:Power: a global model of the power sector with induced technological change and natural resource depletion. Energy Policy 48, 799–811 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Mercure, J.-F. et al. The dynamics of technology diffusion and the impacts of climate policy instruments in the decarbonisation of the global electricity sector. Energy Policy 73, 686–700 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Knobloch, F., Huijbregts, M. A. J. & Mercure, J.-F. Modelling the effectiveness of climate policies: how important is loss aversion by consumers? Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 116, 109419 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Cambridge Econometrics in Final Report for the European Commission (DG Energy, 2013);

  73. Mercure, J.-F. et al. in Study on the Macroeconomics of Energy and Climate Policies (European Commission, DG Energy, 2016).

  74. E3ME Manual, Version 6 (Cambridge Econometrics, 2014);

Download references


The authors acknowledge funding from the EPSRC (J.-F.M., fellowship no. EP/K007254/1), the Newton Fund (J.-F.M. and P.S., EPSRC grant nos. EP/N002504/1 and ES/N013174/1), the ERC (M.A.J.H. and S.V.H., grant no. 62002139 ERC – CoG SIZE 647224), Horizon 2020 (J.-F.M., F.K. and H.P.; Sim4Nexus project no. 689150) and the European Commission (J.-F.M., H.P., F.K. and U.C.; DG ENERGY contract no. ENER/A4/2015-436/SER/S12.716128). F.K. acknowledges participants of the CIRED summer school in Paris (2018) for valuable discussions.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



F.K. designed the research and wrote the manuscript, with contributions from all authors. S.V.H. and F.K. performed the life-cycle analysis, with contributions from M.A.J.H. F.K., J.-F.M., U.C. and H.P. ran the model simulations. U.C. and H.P. managed E3ME. J.-F.M. and A.L. developed FTT:Transport. F.K. and J.-F.M. developed FTT:Heat. J.-F.M. and P.S. developed FTT:Power.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Florian Knobloch.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–6 and Methods 1–4.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Tables

Supplementary Tables 1–9.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Knobloch, F., Hanssen, S., Lam, A. et al. Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time. Nat Sustain 3, 437–447 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing Anthropocene

Sign up for the Nature Briefing: Anthropocene newsletter — what matters in anthropocene research, free to your inbox weekly.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing: Anthropocene