News From COP21: New England States and International Partners Commit to Get More Zero-Emission Vehicles On The Road

Max Greene

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

Electric-Vehicle-IllustrationThursday, some exciting news came out of the Paris climate negotiations (also known as COP21).

No, it wasn’t the binding international treaty we’re all waiting for. But it was something that highlights New England’s a world leadership on climate policy. The news is this: thirteen jurisdictions – nations, U.S. states, and one Canadian province – calling themselves the “International Zero-Emission Vehicle Alliance” announced that they have jointly committed to ensure that all new car, SUV, and truck sales are zero-emission vehicles “as fast as possible, and no later than 2050.”

And yes, the tiny New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont are members of this Alliance, joining international heavy-hitters like Germany and the U.K. to take this necessary step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

CLF’s recent work highlights the urgency of replacing gas-powered vehicles with zero-emission ones, which, as you can probably guess by the name, emit no tailpipe pollution. ZEVs, as they’re called, currently include electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Last month, CLF released a report with partners Acadia Center and Sierra Club, Charging Up: The Role of States, Utilities, and the Auto Industry in Dramatically Accelerating Electric Vehicle Adoption in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, that spells out why transitioning to ZEVs is so important.

For example, the report explains that, as of right now, buying an electric car instead of, say, a gas-powered sedan can cut your car-related greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent. And, looking ahead to the future, if our electric grid were powered by 75% renewable energy, switching from a conventional to an electric vehicle could reduce your car-related emissions by 90% (since the electricity powering your car would be cleaner, too!). If the grid were 100% renewable energy, electric vehicles would be responsible for no greenhouse gas emissions at all.

Needless to say, if the cars on our roads gave off zero greenhouse gas emissions, that would be a major improvement over today. In Rhode Island, for example, the transportation sector represents both the largest and the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions statewide. Bringing that sector’s emissions down to zero would be a true game-changer.

CLF is pushing all New England states to meet this ambitious goal. At a high level, Charging Up lays out a pathway for getting many, many more ZEVs on the road. And at a state and local level, CLF is doing the work necessary to actually bring about the changes we recommend in our report. Here in Rhode Island, I sit on the state’s ZEV Working Group and recently submitted formal comments – again with Acadia Center and Sierra Club – supporting the state’s draft ZEV Action Plan, precisely because it reflects the very policies we’ve been telling the state it must pursue.

Yesterday’s commitment from the International ZEV Alliance highlights how this work at the local level can affect international policy. True, 2050 may not be soon enough to get to the emissions reductions we need to avoid the worst consequences of climate change – one report estimates that ZEV sales will need to approach 100% by 2035 or so for this to happen.

But remember that, under Thursday’s agreement, 2050 is an ultimate deadline – and 2050 is not “as fast as possible.” If New England states and their partners in the Alliance can truly move to all-ZEV sales “as fast as possible,” then we just might be able to achieve the deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions necessary for a healthy climate and a healthy future for our children and grandchildren.

CLF President Brad Campbell is on the ground in Paris reporting from COP21. Follow his updates on Twitter and on the Huffington Post.

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