IMAGE: Rufa A-zade (CC BY SA)

Proposals to ban the internal combustion engine: too little, too late

The Spanish government has announced a draft law to ban the manufacture and sale of gasoline, diesel, LPG and hybrid vehicles from 2040, and to have them off the roads by 2050, following the tardy approach of countries such as France and the United Kingdom. Germany, with a huge automotive industry, and also Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands intend to ban the sale of internal combustion engines by 2030, while Austria and Norway, which announced their measures in 2016, say they will impose bans in 2020 and 2025 respectively.

More and more countries are coming round to the idea of banning internal combustion vehicles as soon as possible. Most of these measures were announced before the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest report, which shatters widely held beliefs about time frames, but it seems nobody in the Spanish government read it. The report in question is not opinion, advice, speculation, or theory: it’s SCIENCE, the conclusions of a panel leading experts, and ignoring them by setting dates like 2040 or 2050 to take some kind of measure is irresponsible, a sticking plaster on a problem that within a decade will be beyond our control. France and the United Kingdom, which announced their measures prior to the publication of the report, might be excused, but for Spain, which has some of the oldest vehicles in the European Union, to do so is madness. How can Spain take longer to ban internal combustion vehicles than Germany, whose economy depends in large part on motor vehicle manufacturing?

There’s no possible argument against imposing a ban as soon as possible. The motor industry’s protests (link in Spanish) that these measures are “excessive” only shows how utterly out of touch they are: the big tobacco of the 21st century. And protecting hybrids makes no sense either: there’s nothing environmentally friendly about them, given that most of the time they run on their petrol or diesel engines, and simply make people feel better about carting useless batteries around. Encouraging people to buy them made no sense: they were simply another delaying tactic. About the only sensible thing the Spanish government has done is to recognize this by including them in its ban.

Arguing that a ban from 2040 is hasty simply highlights the motor industry’s refusal to understand what’s going on: no wonder some of its leading figures are behind bars. Nobody, absolutely nobody, in their right mind should pay any attention to their arguments about protecting jobs. Meanwhile, some of us are trying to stave off catastrophe while others complain about a tax that would mean a €3.30 hike in fuel prices.

The responses of many of the main companies involved in this problem shows a total lack of criteria and a denial of the reality of the disaster that climate change poses: the car manufacturers say they need time to reconvert, that they create jobs (what use will they be amid catastrophic climate change?), that the deadlines are short… but NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING justifies the continued manufacture of internal combustion vehicles. We need to ban their manufacture and get them off the roads as soon as possible, not in 2030 or 2040: all the necessary measures must be undertaken to do so, because there simply is NO REASONABLE ALTERNATIVE. A responsible approach requires governments to stop seeing automotive companies as valid interlocutors and instead harass them until they make the decisions they have to make, instead of trying to find consensus.

To be meaningful, we need a ban on the manufacture of internal combustion engines, whether diesel, gasoline, natural gas or hybrids, from 2020, and they need to be off the roads by 2025. Anything else is simply irresponsible. Business does not change unless it’s forced to do so, and we now know that we need to take drastic measures: the motor industry will only start making electric vehicles if they are forced to act now, not within 20 or 30 years. Why aren’t the traditional companies rising to Tesla’s challenge? Because they are better off ignoring it. I’m not interested in Volkswagen’s claims it can manufacture a competitive electric vehicle tomorrow: I want to know when it’s going to stop poisoning me by manufacturing and selling those that it manufactures and sells today. The rest is marketing. Making electric vehicles means getting a good battery technology, changing the manufacturing philosophy, the user interface, the equilibrium between value and price … it’s not that simple. And if they are not pushed to it, the classic automotive companies will not do it until they really have no choice.

The goal of a ban in a few years’ time instead of decades is realistic and viable, so much so, that some countries, not characterized by populist measures have already set a date, and they’re right. The argument that a ban from 2020 means nobody will buy a car so therefore we need to think in terms of more than two decades, is simply about protecting the income of a few while destroying the planet of all. We have to understand that there are no options, that we have no choices here and that there is no point in pretending we haven’t read the IPCC report, or that it was written by a bunch of crazies that should be put to death. The scientific evidence is what it is, and what is coming is nothing less than what is coming: an unprecedented climatic catastrophe if we don’t get on the program. Either we propose changes in time and we do things properly, or everything else — your job, your comfort, your salary — will matter very, very little.


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

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Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)