Listening and reading the coverage in the run up to COP 26, there is still little detailed description of what needs to be done to achieve zero carbon by 2050. I think it is important for the UK government to set out, and for all politicians to agree, what should be done in terms of policy and implementation to achieve the 2050 zero carbon target, that they all agree on. They need to focus on how to reduce emissions.
My book covers this in some detail, together with what we, as individuals, need to do. I will have a series of blogs setting out the policy decisions in detail.
The fundamental issue is to set clear signals and timescales for the actions to reduce emissions to achieve the target and to publicise these decisions. And then to repeat that publicity until the decision is implemented. Government, local, regional, and national need to endorse these decisions. There needs to be a political consensus on action. This isn’t an area for political point scoring.
The two biggest decisions affecting individuals directly are cars and heating. This blog focuses on cars.
The UK government has promised a ban on sales of new carbon and hybrid cars by 2035, instead of the previous target of 2040. It has not answered the question of what happens to existing carbon cars at 2035. Without this ending the sale of new carbon cars does not put any timescale on when carbon cars will stop being a substantial proportion of the cars on the road and certainly doesn’t guarantee that there will be no carbon cars in 2050 in the UK. so, aside from the sale of carbon cars, there needs to be a deadline for ending the use of carbon cars,etc, if the zero carbon target is to be met.
I’ve written in my book, Zero Carbon Our Choice, about the supply challenges in producing the new electric cars required to achieve this target. The UK had 31.5 million cars in 2018, 18.5 million petrol, 12.4 million diesel and 600,000 hybrid or electric cars. 30.9 million new or converted non carbon cars are needed. Cobalt is a key mineral for electric cars with each car requiring 6 to 12 kilogrammes of cobalt in its battery. The electric cars required in the UK to replace existing cars, the 30.9 million, would need two years of what is current global cobalt production for their batteries. All that current global cobalt production is used for other applications so production would need to increase to meet the demand for electric car batteries. An increase of production on this scale would accelerate the timescale over which current reserves would be exhausted. To change the cars in the EU would require roughly 20 years of global production. The figure for the world exceeds 100 years of global production.
The major source of current cobalt production and the major location of cobalt reserves for future cobalt production is the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Given the instability of the DRC there must be question marks over whether the demand for cobalt for electric car batteries can be met, and if it is at what environmental and personal cost. If demand increases and supply is restricted, the usual consequence is an increase in price. Will this hinder the change over to electric cars? Given the dominance of the DRC in proven reserves of cobalt, it is likely that its geo-political significance will increase as countries seek to ensure access to cobalt reserves (just as happened with oil).
The UK is not alone, if governments around the world promote targets to de-carbonise cars, they will need access to cobalt supplies to achieve this. In addition to convincing their own populations to accept the change to electric cars, in a world where the price of cobalt is increasing.
The target of 2035 is easy to set. Achieving it may be more challenging.
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