Gas2 Week in Review, February 25: Green Transportation Is Essential and Often Complicated

Current transportation systems are rife with problems that can lead to global warming, environmental degradation, health implications, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Indeed, traditional modes of transportation that depend on fossil fuels contributed to 27% of overall GHG emissions in 2017, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Sometimes the most important stories about green transportation and climate change aren’t as glamorous, sexy, or intriguing as those about fast cars or exclusive automotive auctions — but they may be more important than those that make the media headlines. So, for this edition of the “Gas2 Week in Review,” we’ll move from new data on transportation and climate change to stories about how a couple of companies  are investing today in a vision of a zero-emissions future tomorrow.

A Primer on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

GHG emissions inventories identify and quantify a country’s primary anthropogenic sources, which is essential for addressing climate change. US GHG emissions have been tracked annually by source, economic sector, and GHG, going back to 1990. Each year the EPA has published a GHG draft report in February, to allow for public comment prior to publishing the final report by April 15.

According to the EPA Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, 1990-2016 (first available in February, 2018), GHGs absorb infrared radiation, thereby trapping heat and making the planet warmer. The most 29 important greenhouse gases directly emitted by humans include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and several other fluorine-containing halogenated substances. Although CO2, CH4, and N2O occur naturally in the atmosphere, human activities have changed their atmospheric concentrations. From the pre-industrial era (i.e. ending about 1750) to 2016, concentrations of these greenhouse gases have increased globally by 44, 163, and 22 %, respectively.

The 3 largest sources of transportation CO2 emissions in 2016 were passenger cars (42.2%), medium- and heavy-duty trucks (23.3%), and light-duty trucks, which include sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans (17.0 %). Total transportation CO2 emissions increased, in large part, due to demand for travel, population growth, economic growth, urban sprawl, and low fuel prices during the beginning of this period. Almost all of the energy consumed for transportation was supplied by petroleum-based products, with more than half being related to gasoline consumption in automobiles and other highway vehicles. Other fuel uses, especially diesel fuel for freight, accounted for the remainder.

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 Green Transportation Is a Complicated Necessity

As the EPA report cited above demonstrates, a transportation infrastructure based around fossil fuel power and individual vehicle ownership contributes to global warming, pollution, health problems, and energy insecurity. Green transportation options have the potential to make our lives easier, reduce congestion, eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, and save the planet. They’re eco-friendly due to efficient and effective use of renewable energy resources. A low-carbon transportation initiative can be deployed for economic growth, societal well-being and development, and environmental preservation and management — all in a holistic manner.

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Current models of green transportation are focused on innovation and improved environmental performance. To be efficient and fair, a transportation system must serve diverse demands. Green transportation presents various benefits and obstacles, depending on variables. For example:

Daimler’s Newest Shareholder is Chair of Geely Motors

Replacing gas-powered autos with those that run on electricity will make a big difference in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. Nowhere in the world is this shift to green transportation more evident than in China, a country which is struggling with overwhelming pollution and associated human health risks. China is a global leader in the rapidly growing market for zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which surpassed two million cars, trucks, and buses worldwide last year. China accounts for about 40% of the ZEV global market, with ZEV production skyrocketing over the past two years.

Enter Daimler AG, which announced back in November in Guangzhou that they intend to invest about $755 million as part of a push to manufacture plug-in electric vehicles and associated battery packs in China. Those investments are part of the company’s $11.8 billion global green transportation initiative.

Geely, one of the largest car companies in China, has been aggressively expanding its global reach. Its chairperson and the 209th wealthiest person in the world,  Li Shufu, became the largest single stockholder of Daimler this week with an approximately $9 billion investment. That mean he holds a 9.69 percent stake in the German auto manufacturer. The purchase comes after an initial approach by Geely last November in which Greely asked Daimler to issue new shares so that it could buy a stake, according to China Daily. When Daimler declined, Li changed tactics and quietly accumulated shares himself.

“The competitors which technologically challenge the global car industry in the 21st century are not part of the automotive industry today. No current car industry player is likely to win this battle against the invaders from outside without friends,” Li acknowledged. “To achieve and assert technological leadership, one has to adapt a new way of thinking in terms of sharing and combining strength. My investment in Daimler reflects this vision.”

green transportationChina is the largest auto market in the world, with more new vehicle sales per year than any other country, and the implied Geely: Daimler alliance comes at a time in which China has set goals to ban production and use of fossil fuel powered vehicles.  Geely’s holdings include Volvo Cars and Geely Automobile with interests in British sports car maker Lotus, Proton Cars of Malaysia, London Taxi, and China’s largest car-sharing provider, Cao Cao.

“Li Shufu is a Chinese entrepreneur Daimler knows well and regards highly in terms of his competency and focus on future developments,” spokesman Joerg Howe said. “Daimler already has a strong footing in China. We have a very strong partner with our existing cooperation with BAIC Motor.”

China installed a record number of wind and solar energy projects in 2017 to reduce its serious pollution issues, with goals of 20% of its power to come from solar or wind by 2030. The country plans to invest around $560 billion by 2020, creating 13 million jobs in the process.

China, ZEVs, GHGs, and Green Transportation

The result of China’s shift to ZEVs — with Geely and Daimler’s influences — will have global consequences, including mitigating global CO2 levels and making green transportation and technology increasingly accessible around the world. They’re already having a potential impact on your life, affecting how vehicles are built and sold in the US — regardless of who’s in power — increasing choices for green transportation, and introducing EVs as increasingly mainstream — all of which can lessen GHGs.

Photo by vgallova on Foter.com / CC BY

 

Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn grew up in Stafford Springs, CT, home of the half-mile tar racetrack. She's an avid Formula One fan (this year's trip to the Monza race was memorable). With a Ph.D. from URI, she draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+