MIT Energy Initiative

Personal Vehicles Evaluated Against Climate Change Mitigation Targets

Published: September 2016

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Meeting global climate change mitigation goals will likely require that transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions begin to decline within the next two decades and then continue to fall. A variety of vehicle technologies and fuels are commercially available to consumers today that can reduce the emissions of the transportation sector. Yet what are the best options, and do any suffice to meet climate policy targets? Here, we examine the costs and carbon intensities of 125 light-duty vehicle models on the U.S. market today and evaluate these models against U.S. emission-reduction targets for 2030, 2040, and 2050 that are compatible with the goal of limiting mean global temperature rise to 2 °C above preindustrial levels. Our results show that consumers are not required to pay more for a low-carbon-emitting vehicle. Across the diverse set of vehicle models and powertrain technologies examined, a clean vehicle is usually a low-cost vehicle. Although the average carbon intensity of vehicles sold in 2014 exceeds the climate target for 2030 by more than 50%, we find that most hybrid and battery electric vehicles available today meet this target. By 2050, only electric vehicles supplied with almost completely carbon-free electric power are expected to meet climate-policy targets.

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