Feb 8, 2023
Polestar and Rivian Say EVs Aren’t Enough to Hit Climate Goals
(Bloomberg) -- Electric vehicle startups Polestar Automative Holding and Rivian Automotive Inc. are known for doggedly tracking their individual corporate emissions, detailing the environmental toll of everything from the lights in their factories to the rubber in their cars’ tires. On Wednesday, the EV rivals paired up with consulting giant Kearney to raise a flag on the industry more broadly: In a new report, they argue that the transition to electric vehicles alone won’t be enough of a solution to meet the emissions threshold laid out in the Paris Agreement.
“I gasped the first time [they] presented the numbers,” says Fredrika Klarén, chief sustainability officer at Polestar, the electric vehicle brand spun out of Volvo. “It has come to a point where we are running headlong into a crisis.”
The report is essentially a math exercise — mashing up the emissions threshold laid out in the Paris treaty to keep global warming at or below 1.5C against a projection of total auto emissions, from the mining of metals to manufacturing to driving to scrapping or recycling. It concludes that EVs are not enough; even battery-powered vehicles juiced exclusively by renewable sources won’t keep the auto industry under its climate targets.
Kearney found that the global auto industry needs to keep its carbon emissions under 80 gigatons by 2050 in order to do its part per the Paris targets, but is currently emitting about 6 gigatons a year. At that pace, the report notes, carmakers will collectively blow the emissions threshold by 2035, and almost double it by 2050. In order to maintain the 1.5C threshold, the industry would have to charge EVs entirely on renewable power by 2033, by which point it would also need to cut supply chain and manufacturing emissions by 81%.
“No matter how you model it, we are far too close for comfort,” says Angela Hultberg, Kearney’s global sustainability director.
The report urges automakers to further green their supply chains and to cultivate renewable energy in both manufacturing and charging infrastructure. It also calls for an industry-wide standard on carbon pricing, a concerted effort to cultivate cleaner smelting and mining of metals, and programs to link EV charging with renewable energy sources.
For two companies that exclusively make electric vehicles, the report is a convenient way to highlight that legacy automakers’ slow-but-steady march toward electrification isn’t enough to sufficiently move the needle on emissions: Clean energy research group BloombergNEF estimates that even by 2050, only 69% of vehicles will be zero-emission.
Polestar and Rivian acknowledge there are also green gains to be had in their own supply chains and among their users. At Polestar, greenhouse gas emissions surged in 2021, mainly due to increased production. And while the company has managed to lower its emissions on a per-vehicle basis, coal is still a big part of its supply chain. In November, Polestar started sourcing some aluminum from a smelter in western China run exclusively on hydropower. The move cut the carbon footprint on each of its cars by up to 488 kg a year, the equivalent of burning roughly 50 gallons of gas.
Meanwhile, Rivian’s factory in the cornfields of Illinois is surrounded by windmills; in December, the company signed a deal to get up to 75% of its electricity from renewable sources, including on-site generation.
Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Rivian’s chief sustainability officer, says the findings from the report weren’t necessarily surprising. “What’s most sobering, is you cannot just do one or two things,” she says. “This is about, in a very positive way, holding ourselves as an industry to task.”
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