Updated September 10, 2022

In April 2022, the world’s authoritative scientific body on climate change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gave a major update on the state of climate science.1 Here’s what it said about electric vehicles:2

Widespread electrification is crucial for reducing transportation emissions in general (10-30) and for on-road transportation specifically (TS-68). Electrification is essentially one of the two most important objectives for on-road transportation–the other being space-efficient multimodal systems.

While the first kind of electric vehicle that might come to mind is cars, electrification is happening fastest in e-bikes, other micro-mobility (scooters, autorickshaws), and transit buses (TS-67). We have to electrify pretty much every wheeled thing with a motor, and advances with these relatively high-efficiency, urban-oriented modes highlight the role–and investment opportunity–of using electrification to advance entire modality system.

As we electrify wider modes, including cars, most trucks, and trains (TS-67, TS-68, 10-4), electrification is vital because it significantly improves the potential carbon efficiency of vehicle motors. However, to realize system-wide gains, we have still have to decarbonize fleet-average sources of electricity (TS-67, 10-13) and battery production (TS-67).

The electrification movement also has to become sophisticated about managing demand. That means taking measures to “avoid” the need for travel and “shift” to more fundamentally efficient modes when possible. It also means using the power of the technology to maximize mileage-efficiency, and in general being a thoughtful partner in the drive for space-efficient, multimodal systems.

Electrification can bring new capabilities to transportation that support further decarbonization. With cars and other large motor vehicles, batteries can be used for grid stabilization through smart charging applications (10-103). With e-bikes and other micromobility, electric motors can add the ability for greater range, cargo-carrying capability, and accessibility for an ultralight vehicle class.

Expanding electrification will require additional technological advances. Those include investments in electric charging and related grid infrastructure (TS-67), improved technical capability of energy storage systems (10-30), and addressing resource availability and mineral costs associated with a projected demand increase of 30x for lithium and 25x for cobalt by 2030 (TS-69). Additionally, sustainability concerns in battery production surrounding labor rights and non-climate environmental impacts need to be resolved (TS-69).

Feedback is welcome in the comments below or at the contact page. Updates will made as needed and documented.

1 IPCC (April 2022). Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel. Also, watch for original briefings and analysis on IPCC 2022 to come.

2. This is an abbreviated take for the non-specialist.

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