An Unfortunate Truth Part 2 – SUVs – why do we buy them?

The theme of my book “Zero Carbon Our Choice” is that to achieve net zero emissions, we, as individuals, need to make decisions to reduce emisions and think about our personal carbon budgets as well as lobby governments to make the decisions they need to make to reduce emissions

Flying is an example of this. We can make the decision to fly less. The government can make it more expensive to try to impact behaviour in a number of ways to reduce emissions.

Another key personal choice most of us make is the car we drive. What is interesting is that over the last few years, a lot of us have decided to drive bigger cars which have higher emissions – SUVs.

SUV cars are now 30% of cars in the EU and the UK, and a similar level in North America and despite their greater emissions, we continue to choose to buy them. According to an IEA report (Crossover Utility vehicles overtake cars as the most popular light duty vehicle type October 2019), in global terms,  “As a consequence, SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global COemissions since 2010 after the power sector, but ahead of heavy industry (including iron & steel, cement, aluminium), as well as trucks and aviation. This is an indictment not of government, but our personal choices and motor manufacturers who provide this choice.

Transport represents 27% of UK emissions. It is the largest sector in terms of emissions, but the one with the worst record for the reduction of emissions (along with aviation and maritime, the other transport sectors) since 1990. The reduction in emissions for road transport over the last thirty years is just 3.7%. The UK is not alone, and other countries have struggled to reduce emissions in this sector as is discussed in my book “Zero carbon our choice”.

In part this is about personal choice, again to quote the IEA report of October 2019: “As passenger cars consume nearly one-quarter of global oil demand today, does this signal the approaching erosion of a pillar of global oil consumption? A more silent structural change may put this conclusion into question: consumers are buying ever larger and less fuel-efficient cars, known as sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

While discussions today see significant focus on electric vehicles and fuel economy improvements, the analysis highlights the role of the average size of car fleet. Bigger and heavier cars, like SUVs, are harder to electrify and growth in their rising demand may slow down the development of clean and efficient car fleets.”

The EIA report shows that SUVs consume roughly 20% more petrol/gasoline than a standard car of the same engine size. If SUV owners were a nation, their car emissions would make them the country with the seventh highest emissions in the world. So, decisions about purchasing, leasing and hiring cars that we make have emissions consequences and, at the moment, a lot of us making those decisions, are deciding to increase emissions.

It is worth considering next time one buys, leases of hires a car what it does to your personal carbon budget – it is our choice. As the EIA state, if we decide to use bigger, heavier cars it will be more difficult to move to electric cars of the same size.

Government could ban car sales above a certain engine size of course, but we could all decide to drive cars with smaller internal combustion engines, smaller hybrids or electrics. Instead of kerb appeal and impressing neighbours, colleagues or customers we should think about the emissions and how we can reduce our personal emissions.

© Chris Lenon and  2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chris Lenon and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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