Media reports have regularly questioned whether electric cars are really “greener” once emissions from production and generating their electricity are taken into account. But a new study by the universities of Exeter, Nijmegen, and Cambridge has concluded that electric cars lead to lower carbon emissions overall, even if electricity generation still involves substantial amounts of fossil fuel.   

Even under current conditions, driving an electric car is better for the climate than conventional gasoline cars in 95% of the world, the study finds. The only exceptions are places like Poland, where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal.

The study states that average lifetime emissions from electric cars are up to 70% lower than gasoline cars in countries like Sweden and France (which get most of their electricity from renewables and nuclear), and around 30% lower in the UK. It goes on to say that in a few years, even inefficient electric cars will be less emission-intensive than most new gasoline cars in most countries, as electricity generation is expected to be less carbon-intensive than today.

The study projects that in 2050, every second car on the street could be electric. This would reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 1.5 gigatons per year, which is equivalent to the total current CO2 emissions of Russia.

“…the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is essentially a myth,” said Florian Knobloch, of the Environmental Science Department at the University of Nijmegen (The Netherlands), the lead author of the study.

The study examined the current and future emissions of different types of vehicles worldwide. It divided the world into 59 regions to account for differences in power generation and technology. In 53 of these regions—including the U.S., China, and most of Europe—the findings show electric cars are already less emission-intensive than fossil-fuel alternatives.

“Taking into account emissions from manufacturing and ongoing energy use, it’s clear that we should encourage the switch to electric cars without any regrets,” Knobloch concluded.

The paper, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, is entitled, “Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time.”

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