Report: Emissions gains from EVs in 2020 were canceled out by added emissions from SUVs

Added emissions from SUVs cancelled out emissions reductions by electric cars in 2020, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency

(IEA).

Emissions from SUVs increased last year, even as overall carbon emissions decreased due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Overall emissions fell 7%—the largest drop in history, according to the report. But SUV emissions increased by 0.5%, the report said.

Oil consumption from SUVs also increased, reaching 5.5 million barrels per day globally, which cancelled out declines in driving due to coronavirus-related lockdowns, according to the report. SUVs also cancelled out reductions in oil demand brought on by increased electric-car sales.

Overall car sales fell 14% in 2020, but EV sales increased 50%, to about 850,000 units globally, the report noted. That just wasn’t enough to counteract the momentum of SUVs, which were already outselling sedans

in the United States before the pandemic.

Annual change in energy-related CO2 emissions, 2011-2020 (from IEA report)

Annual change in energy-related CO2 emissions, 2011-2020 (from IEA report)

Electric cars helped reduce global oil demand by around 40,000 barrels a day, but that was cancelled out by growth in SUV market share, to 42% of the new-car market, the report said.

Most modern SUVs aren’t the stereotypical gas guzzlers of old, but they’re still generally less efficient than conventional cars. On average, SUVs consume 20% more energy than a medium-sized car for the same distance traveled, according to the IEA. A 2019 report

named SUVs the second-largest contribution to carbon-dioxide emissions increases in the previous decade, ahead of heavy industry, trucking, aviation, and shipping.

This phenomenon has already been seen in Europe, where increased SUV sales outpaced growth of EV sales between 2016 and 2019, making the fleet dirtier despite stricter emissions standards ramping up at that time.

The IEA report did deliver some good news, however. The reported increase in sales shows that the pandemic hasn’t stunted EV growth nearly as much as anticipated.