Contributed by energy economist Robert Lyman @ July 2016
Environmentalists across Europe and North America seem determined to wage war on oil-fueled motor vehicles, including private cars, light trucks and heavier trucks used for freight. The most recent example of this is the announcement that Norway and the Netherlands, heavily influenced by the European Green Party, may ban car manufacturers from selling cars and light trucks fueled by gasoline or diesel fuel by 2025. It wasn’t enough to raise fuel taxes and carbon taxes to punishing levels; an outright ban was called for. The Environment Minister for Germany was quoted as saying that Germany might do the same, but quickly retreated from that after a strong public reaction.
This is all allegedly to “save the planet”, the often repeated mantra of those who believe in the theory that humans are causing catastrophic climate change and that this can be stopped if we all just stopped emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Of the many false premises that underlie this view, this note will address three that can be tested empirically: first, that private motor vehicles, including passenger and commercial vehicles, constitute a large share of the global emissions; second, that significant reductions in vehicle ownership are occurring in developed countries, and specifically in Europe and North America; and third, that the number of vehicles owned and operated globally is declining in line with the Green agenda.
The most authoritative source of data on international energy supply, demand and emissions is the International Energy Agency. In 2015, it published its analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions from fuel combustion, measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, that occurred in 2013, the most recent year for which full information is available. The global total was 32.2 gigatonnes. Of this, 7.4 gigatonnes were from transport, and only 5.5 gigatonnes were from road transport (i.e. cars, trucks, buses, etc.). In other words, road transport constituted only 17% of the total emissions from fuel combustion. 83 % were from other sectors – electricity and heat production, manufacturing and energy production, residential and commercial, and others. Cars and trucks are not the “villains” environmentalists make them out to be.
The best source of data on worldwide vehicle ownership is the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA). Every year, OICA publishes online statistics on the numbers of personal vehicles (PV) and commercial vehicles (CV) owned. The most recent report includes information on the ten-year period 2005 to 2014. The following table compares the situation at the beginning and end of the period.
WORLDWIDE VEHICLES IN USE
Area 2005 2014
PV CV Total PV CV Total
Europe 277 45 322 328 54 382
Members)* 32 5 37 43 7 50
Eastern Europe** 42 10 52 68 15 83
North America 165 113 278 168 148 316
Central and South
America 37 13 50 63 24 85
Asia/South Pacific 157 60 217 318 90 408
Africa 18 8 26 29 13 42
World 654 239 893 907 329 1,236
* includes former centrally planned economies in central/eastern Europe
** includes Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and others
If one examines the changes over the decade, a number of points emerge:
- North America comes closest to the “Green” goal of reducing PV ownership, as PV ownership has stabilized (at a high level of ownership per capita).
- Despite the hype about Europe, PV ownership both in the traditional European Union and in the new members combined has increased from 309 million in 2005 to 396 million in 2014, a 28% increase.
- Ownership of PV’s is increasing at a remarkably rapid pace in the Asia/South Pacific areas, more than doubling in a decade from 157 million to 318 million PVs. The increase in PV ownership in Asia/South Pacific over the decade came close to equaling the total number of PVs in North America at the beginning of the decade.
- The rate of growth in commercial vehicle ownership has been much slower, reflecting the effects and aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Still, CV ownership has increased by 50% in Eastern Europe, Central and South America, Asia and Africa.
- The ownership of oil-fueled vehicles globally has increased by 38% from 893 million to 1.2 billion in a decade.
The figures in the table do not indicate China’s role. There, personal vehicle ownership increased from 21.3 million PVs in 2005 to 115.9 million PVs in 2014, an increase of 444%.
The record is clear. The emissions associated with road transport globally are only about one-sixth of the total. Left to their own free choices, the people of the world are deciding to increase their ownership and use of personal and commercial vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel fuel. With current political leadership, it is possible that the exercise of state power to ban such behaviour and to police against it could change this pattern in Europe and North America. It certainly will not in Asia or the other fast-growing regions of the world.