Electric vehicle revolution under spotlight at COP26

As the world comes together to tackle climate change at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the role of electric vehicles has never been more important.

The COP26 summit is finally underway, with Boris Johnson joining a host of world leaders for what he is calling “a turning point” in the fight against climate change.

And, prior to the conference, there has been vast amounts of fighting talk from Johnson, as he plans to ask delegates from all around the world to take collective action on the issues impacting the climate, such coal, cash and trees. However, one factor that may be the most pivotal in achieving the limiting of global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, is cars.

With over 120 leaders present at the summit, Johnson has a global audience to address and to stress the importance in accelerating the transition to EVs.

Whilst there has been plenty of promising talk ahead of this landmark event, it is important that there is purpose and intention behind those words, and that Johnson’s visit is not a greenwashing parade of false promises.

There are real concerns about that, and those concerns have been summed up perfectly by The Queen, who was heard saying she is “irritated” by those who “talk but don’t do.”

And one example of those who talk but don’t do, is the COP26 president, Alok Sharma, who was discovered to be the owner of a diesel car.

Despite saying he doesn’t drive it very much and that his next car will be electric, it is not overly encouraging when the head of the global climate change summit is part of the problem that the conference is trying to resolve.

In order to ensure action is taken, climate activist Greta Thunberg also challenged world leaders over their failure to make meaningful changes. She said: “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah.

“This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.”

So, what promises have been made?

The well-documented phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 is the government’s primary EV target, and with electric vehicles accounting for 15.2% of all new UK vehicle registrations in September, it would appear there has been some decent progress made with that.

Although the UK has made a steady start to its switch to an electric future, its targets are not the most ambitious compared to some of the other European leaders.

Norway is aiming to achieve the same goals as the UK but by 2025, and it is close to achieving that, with 80% of all vehicle sales being electric in September, up from 54% in 2020.

So, it is possible for the UK to make that leap to mass EV adoption, and a collection of electric vehicle drivers from 44 EV drivers’ associations have called for government to go a step further.

The drivers are calling for all new cars and light-duty vans sold in the 28 EU countries represented in the Global EV Drivers’ Alliance (GEVA) to have a plug by 2030 and to be fully zero-emission by 2035 at the latest.

These drivers have travelled to the summit as part of the ‘Electric Road to COP26’ which saw them make a series of visits to key locations in the UK related to the electric vehicle industry.

The Group, which was organized by EVA England, EVA Scotland, GEVA and Local EV Groups (NEXUS), is also calling for much faster transport decarbonisation globally; to increase the public’s awareness of the benefits of EVs for the environment and health, reducing carbon emissions and helping to improve air quality, and to promote the voice of EV driver associations globally working with GEVA.

Joel Levin, who chairs GEVA, said: “A shift to electric transport is essential to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions; reduce dangerous climate change; improve local air quality and people’s health in cities around the world. With the rapid improvements in EV technology and the new cars and vans coming into the market, it is entirely achievable.”

But what else can be achieved?

Pam Barbato, founder of Action Net Zero Bristol, commented: “We know we only have 8 years to almost half carbon emissions if we are to have any chance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C, so I’d like to see shorter term commitments from countries coming out of COP26 summit, pledges to net zero by 2030 and commitments within those countries’ NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) to show how.

“If these pledges are made, policy will then have to follow, which will drive confidence and de-risk financing, so we can see action on the ground, like the much needed investment in charging infrastructure or funding in local collaborative partnerships too to help ensure people are guided on the journey.

“We need COP26 to be a time to inspire everyone, for leaders to lead by example, like politicians all switching to greener transport modes and shouting about how they’ve done it, Governments empowering regions through decentralised funding, enabling communities to play their part in bringing about grass roots change as it’s driven top-down through policy. I believe in the power of the collective and given the fourth goal of COP26 is, ‘Work Together to Deliver’ now has to be the time to trust.”

Joel Teague, founder of community EV charging app Co-Charger, said: “When it comes to COP26, it’s all about the big picture; the overall mindset. I would like to see far clearer thinking about EVs – more focus on base charging and the vital importance of community charging in enabling everyone to move to emissions-free transport as quickly as possible. But all of that is pointless unless there is a fundamental shift in how climate change is faced.

“This is not ‘one for the market to sort’ or for bartering targets against profits. As the Prince of Wales put it, we need to be on a ‘war footing’.  The enemy is at the gates and for the first time in history, it’s a common one of our own making.  What I want to see is recognition that the time for fixing this problem within the rules that created it has long-since passed.  Now we have to do whatever it takes, because when the planet is no longer habitable the balance sheet is irrelevant.”

There has been lots of discussion and debate on whether COP26 will be a success or not, as well as what actually constitutes a success. However, most people will agree that, if the government is serious about achieving the targets it has set, then COP26 will need to be remembered as the time where the UK ramped up its commitment to tackling climate change and pressed hard on the throttle in the switch to EVs, rather than it going down as an elaborate PR display that made no impact at all.

Charlie Atkinson

Senior Reporter for EV Powered, covering and reviewing all things electric.