Questions and Answers

Background - 17 March, 2008

How do cars contribute to climate change?

When fossil fuels like petrol or diesel are burned they give off carbon dioxide - the main climate change gas. The amount of carbon dioxide given off is directly related to the amount of fuel burnt. Heavy cars with big engines use a lot of fuel per distance travelled, releasing more CO2 and worsening climate change.

What is the share of cars in climate change?

Transport contributes approximately 13% of total global greenhouse gas emissions of which CO2 is the largest part. Two thirds of that comes from road transport. At present CO2 emissions from road transport and aviation are growing twice as fast as overall CO2 emissions. It has been estimated that by 2050 emissions from transport could be between 30 and 50% of total global emissions.

Within the EU between 1990 and 2005 all sectors except transport decreased their greenhouse gas emissions. In the EU emissions from transport grew by 26% and with emissions from passenger cars accounting for 12% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions.

What is the solution to the problem with cars and climate change?

Car manufacturers must commit to rapid, and constant reduction in the overall emissions of their fleets on a global scale. As a first step they must commit to achieving average emissions in Europe of 120g by 2012 and 80g by 2020.

Car makers can meet these targets through improved fuel efficiency and an alteration to their mix of models using only current technology. In the longer term the successful development of alternative technologies will allow emissions to be driven down even further.

Can emissions of CO2 / km be improved enough to provide a solution?

Yes. The car industry has been making improvements in fuel efficiency for two decades, but has chosen to use the gains to power bigger and heavier cars rather than to deliver lower emitting models. The concept cars and niche models shown at car shows and in advertising demonstrate the gains which can be made but these are not the cars the industry sells in large numbers.

The problem is not the lack of technology, but the composition of the industry's fleets.

Why don't we see more cars with low CO2 emissions on the streets?

Car companies make the biggest profit on heavier and premium vehicles. They talk green but their green models have tiny production runs and are rarely pushed on the showroom floor.


Which technical solutions does Greenpeace support?

Technical breakthroughs are not needed to meet the 2012 standards we are calling for. However there are many technologies emerging which could help the industry go even further and we would support any which could be adopted in a sustainable way.


What does Greenpeace think about Hybrids?

Hybrid cars reduce fuel consumption when in city traffic by switching to run on an electric motor. The car then switches to a petrol or diesel engine for longer distance trips e.g. outside cities. Smaller cars with hybrid engines can be extremely efficient, but they do not provide significant reduction in fuel consumption when applied to bigger engines or heavy vehicles like premium cars or SUVs.

They also perform badly on long distance driving where there is less chance to gain energy from braking.TOP

What does Greenpeace think about electric cars?

Fully electric cars run with a level of emissions related to their source of electricity. To be truly sustainable electric cars need to be powered by clean and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Greenpeace does not consider nuclear power to be clean or sustainable.


What does Greenpeace think about bio-fuels?

Biofuels are very problematic. In many cases they do not contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions due to the emissions caused by their production, often related to land use and deforestation. The availability of real sustainable biofuels is limited and preference should be given to using them for power generation which is a more efficient use of these fuels.


What does Greenpeace think about Hydrogen fuelled cars?

Hydrogen fuel would be an option if the electricity required to produce it were based on clean and renewable energy and could do a more effective job at converting energy into motion. Without a revolution in the way we generate energy, hydrogen powered cars will not be a solution.


Does Greenpeace want to get rid of all cars?

No. We want the industry to provide us with better, more sustainable cars, and to commit to constantly reducing the environmental impact of it's fleet. Cars play a part in our lives the way they do with anyone elses.


Is Greenpeace against all big cars or off road vehicles?

Some jobs need a powerful car with off-road, towing or other similar capabilities. Greenpeace believes people should choose the most energy efficient car that meets their transport needs.


Are a few big cars so bad?

They are only small proportion of cars and only responsible for a tiny proportion of CO2 emissions. A heavy car, like a premium or off-road vehicle, can pump out 2 or even 3 times more greenhouse gas than a smaller car, putting a burden on all the rest to make a reduction in their emissions.

However, the greater number of small cars make them a large contributor of carbon dioxide emissions. Clearly the answer is to increase of fuel efficiency for all cars.  TOP

What is Greenpeace's demand from the manufacturers?

That they stop trying to block EU legislation and agree to rapid, and constant reduction in the overall emissions of their fleets on a global scale. As a first step they must commit to achieving average emissions in Europe of 120g by 2012 and 80g by 2020.


What car should I buy?

Before buying a car, think about whether you really need it or not. If you decide you really need a car then buy the car with the lowest CO2 emissions which meets your needs and tell the salesman about the role climate concern played in making your decision. As a car owner, drive responsibly, using other transport alternatives when possible.


How do I find out what emissions a car has?

Manufacturers websites, car magazines and drivers associations all publish this information.


Why do the figures for share of carbon emissions assume 'all new cars are driven the same distance'?

It is hard to get exact data on vehicle use. We do not know exactly what distance each car that is sold will be driven during its lifespan. What we do know is that large cars usually see more use than small ones, so the numbers given probably underestimate the contribution of the makers of large cars - like BMW and Daimler.


What can I do to help?

If you are a car owner drive responsibly, and use other transport alternatives when possible.