American Anti-Climax

American Anti-Climax

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My hybrid car, Toyota Prius, for last seven years is emitting nearly 50% less CO2 than average non-hybrid car. If all the cars and light vehicles achieve such reduction, it is calculated that whole of transport sector would contribute to total of 12 percent reduction of emission. Had it happened by 2012, transport sector alone would have ben able to meet Kyoto Protocol target for the developed countries i.e. 5 % reduction in their total CO2 emission as compared to 1990 emission level.

Considering that technology exists and is proven, I keep wondering why there are no strict global regulations that progressively achieve the emission-standards for the vehicles to the levels of hybrid vehicles.

CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards related to fuel   efficiency in transport sector of United States of America (USA) have now forged forward to do exactly that. Last year, Obama administration set these new standards –CAFÉ regulations-stipulating the average CO2 emissions for cars and light vehicles made in 2025 onwards to be half of that produced in 2010.  Auto manufacturers can achieve this either by improving fuel efficiency of engines or using less carbon intensive fuels.

These new economy rules could more than halve vehicle fuel consumption as compared to 2010 level. Coming from the nation that is described by their own past President as ‘nation addicted to gas i.e. petrol and diesel’ and whose foreign and economic policies are described by the critics to be ‘ as fluid as oil imported from exporting countries’, is now moving towards-take a breathe- total energy independence!  The very thought that notorious gas guzzlers’ nation that imports nearly 60% of its oil will soon reduce its requirement by half is utterly shocking. But it is happening. I call it American Anti-climax, normally seen at the end of the Western Cow Boy Texan movies.

Indeed, ‘new oil’ i.e. shale gas (called ‘fracking gas’) that is being extracted in huge quantities in USA has been the game changer in shifting from America’s fuel-deficit status to fuel sufficient or even fuel exporter status. But very few realize that half of the credit for this anti-climax goes to fuel efficiency and energy efficiency measures set by USA for the passenger cars. This situation is difficult to digest for many, considering that finger of global criticism for the cause of climate change is always pointed at USA.  But the nation that is mostly blamed for creating the problem in the first place has now not only found the solution to that problem, but it is set to help the world. At least it has begun that process. Europe and Japan are likely to follow soon.

Worldwide transport sector contributes up to 30 percent of all man-made emissions. Improving fuel efficiency of the engines is just one of the ways to reduce CO2 emissions and save money for the car owner. But it is not the only ‘driving’ factor for the environmental and economic solution.

Balanced-mind and non-aggressive driving can save more than 10 percent fuel, correct and optimum tire pressure can save 5%, optimum use of air-conditioning in car can save another 5 %. Road conditions, regular tuning of the engines, better tire quality are some of the other factors that can save further fuel and money.

There are critics who are worried that saving money for car owners will make owners to drive more and buy more cars thereby nullifying the benefits for environment. The past experiences in improving efficiency however do not support such ‘rebound’ effect.

At present people in India and China are  ‘bound’ by their  addiction of the better-looking car, fast-cooling car ACs, and quick and aggressive accelerating speeds by dodging pot-holes dotted on the roads. Fuel efficiency policies are left far behind that of USA in this drive, even though the big cities are getting affected by the pollution-laden fog which disrupts the normal life in cities like Beijing and New Delhi.

It is time to press accelerator for speeding towards super fuel-efficient vehicles and fill in the potholes of administrative delay. There will be win-win-win situation. Benefit to economy for consumers and for the country, protecting environment-not only by mitigating the climate change but also reducing air-pollution that causes millions of each every year , and improving energy security that poor need the most.   END

By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE, former Director UNEP.

Rajendra Shende

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