A world with­out ex­haust pipes

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The ef­fi­cient move­ment of peo­ple is cru­cial for any so­ci­ety. When trans­porta­tion net­works func­tion well, they drive eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and lit­er­ally bring peo­ple to­gether. But in many parts of the world, mo­bil­ity is a mat­ter of life and death; it is dirty, un­safe, and chaotic. Pol­lu­tion and con­ges­tion from trucks, buses and cars are daily haz­ards for mil­lions, es­pe­cially in emerg­ing coun­tries.

For­tu­nately, big changes are com­ing to how hu­mans move. For the first time since the mid-19th cen­tury, when the mod­ern in­ter­nal com­bus­tion engine was in­vented, its demise is within sight. Car man­u­fac­tur­ers have an­nounced plans for scores of elec­tric mod­els, and politi­cians in sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries have put an ex­piry date on gaso­line and diesel cars, with lead­ers in In­dia and China as­pir­ing to do the same.

Com­pa­nies around the world are mak­ing bold pre­dic­tions that elec­tric mo­bil­ity is the fu­ture of trans­porta­tion. Even those with the most to lose from a shift away from fos­sil fu­els un­der­stand that elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EV) are in­evitable. In July, even Ben van Beur­den, the CEO of Shell, con­ceded that his next car will be elec­tric.

More peo­ple are ar­riv­ing at the same con­clu­sion, and those of us who have been cham­pi­oning EVs as one of the so­lu­tions to cli­mate change are op­ti­mistic that a tip­ping point is ap­proach­ing. Sales of elec­tric cars have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years; some 750,000 were regis­tered in 2016 – nearly half in China.

Still, it is hu­man na­ture to re­sist change, and many prospec­tive buy­ers re­main hes­i­tant. That is why ad­dress­ing con­sump­tion bias must be the high­est pri­or­ity over the next few years. Sev­eral changes are needed to en­sure that growth in EV usage and sales con­tin­ues.

For starters, con­sumers must over­come the be­lief that zero-emis­sion mo­bil­ity is only for wealthy peo­ple in de­vel­oped coun­tries. Ev­ery year, 6.5 mln peo­ple die from pol­luted air, and 92% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion lives in places where the air is un­safe to breathe. Ve­hi­cle emis­sions are a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to dirty air ev­ery­where. In­vest­ing in elec­tric mo­bil­ity and in­fras­truc­ture – in­clud­ing elec­tri­fied pub­lic trans­porta­tion, charg­ing sta­tions, and elec­tric car-shar­ing pro­grammes – will help, not hurt, de­vel­op­ment.

Sup­port for such in­vest­ments re­quires peo­ple to re­ject the false prom­ise of “clean” fos­sil fu­els. Some in­dus­try of­fi­cials in­sist that elec­tric cars are not ready for mass roll­out, and that a bet­ter so­lu­tion would be to build more ef­fi­cient gaso­line and diesel en­gines. This is the story we hear most of­ten from car deal­ers in Latin Amer­ica. But such views are as in­ac­cu­rate as they are self-serv­ing.

I have been for­tu­nate to ex­pe­ri­ence first­hand what elec­tric mo­bil­ity feels like, and how it is su­pe­rior to gaso­line- and diesel-only cars. I’ve trav­elled for thou­sands of miles across sev­eral coun­tries on all-elec­tric road trips. Once a driver ex­pe­ri­ences the clean, silent and pow­er­ful tech­nol­ogy, it is dif­fi­cult to hand back the keys. Gov­ern­ments and con­sumer groups ev­ery­where must work to­gether to put more peo­ple be­hind the wheel of these in­spir­ing ve­hi­cles.

Fi­nally, we must ad­dress the struc­tural im­bal­ances that per­sist in our trans­porta­tion poli­cies. Sim­ply put, those who suf­fer most from “dirty” mo­bil­ity have the weak­est po­lit­i­cal voice. For ex­am­ple, data from the United King­dom show that it is of­ten the poor­est peo­ple that walk or take buses. De­vel­op­ment of zero-emis­sion pub­lic tran­sit, there­fore, is rarely a top pri­or­ity for gov­ern­ment lead­ers. To sway them, ad­vo­cates must sharpen their de­fenses of the eco­nomic and so­cial ben­e­fits of ze­roe­mis­sion mo­bil­ity, such as the pos­i­tive ef­fects on pub­lic health.

Chang­ing course will take time. In Costa Rica, my or­gan­i­sa­tion is work­ing to en­cour­age busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments to sign an “elec­tric mo­bil­ity pact” to en­cour­age in­vest­ment in EV in­fras­truc­ture. In early 2018, we will open an on­line registry, and by the end of next year, we aim to have 100 pub­lic and pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tions on board. Costa Rica’s leg­is­la­ture is also de­bat­ing a bill to pro­vide tax in­cen­tives for elec­tric trans­porta­tion.

Oth­ers in Latin Amer­ica are find­ing their own ways to pro­mote elec­tric mo­bil­ity. In Chile, for ex­am­ple, the fo­cus is on so­lar power and the link be­tween min­ing and EV man­u­fac­tur­ing.

But po­lit­i­cal changes alone will not push EVs into the fast lane. To do that, cus­tomers will need to em­brace a new clean-mo­bil­ity nar­ra­tive. In Costa Rica, we pride our­selves on the fact that nearly all of our elec­tric­ity is pro­duced by re­new­able sources, in­clud­ing hy­dro­elec­tric, geo­ther­mal, and wind. This gives us an in­cen­tive to lead the global tran­si­tion from gas-powered ve­hi­cles to elec­tric cars, buses, and trains. We Costa Ri­cans are striv­ing to­ward “un país sin mu­flas” – a coun­try with­out ex­haust pipes. Ex­pand­ing that goal glob­ally is the ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive.

To be sure, push­ing the elec­tric engine past the petrol-powered relic will re­main an uphill bat­tle. But new tech­nolo­gies, like bet­ter bat­ter­ies and speed­ier charg­ing sta­tions, will help ac­cel­er­ate the tran­si­tion. Just like the CEO of Shell, I, too, be­lieve that the tran­si­tion to elec­tric mo­bil­ity is in­evitable. What we see on the roads to­day is just the be­gin­ning.

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