NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Automobiles

December 6, 2011

Federal, state and local governments are considering or have implemented policies that seek to reduce human emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  In a new study Wendell Cox, an adjunct scholar at the National Center for Policy Analysis, and Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at the Reason Foundation, seek to assess the relative merits of specific policies intended to reduce GHGs from automobiles.

Current policies and proposals for reducing GHGs from autos would require implementation of strong land use restrictions (compact development).

  • Proponents of this approach argue that GHG reduction will require radical changes in lifestyles.
  • Their solution is behavioral strategies (compact development) to increase urban densities and change the way people travel.
  • The two most prominent reports on this approach (Driving and the Built Environment and Moving Cooler) predict that compact development could reduce GHGs from autos by between 1 percent and 9 percent between 2005 and 2050.

The alternate view is that technology solutions can achieve sufficient GHG reduction from autos.  These facilitative strategies would alter the underlying GHG intensity of how people live and travel without requiring major changes in behavior or the standard of living.

  • Wider application of existing technologies could produce GHG emission reductions of up to 54 percent by 2050 with current hybrid technology.
  • GHG reductions from new technologies, such as electric cars, could be even greater.
  • These technologies are potentially sustainable financially, economically and politically, and thus environmentally.
  • By contrast, imposing compact development would be enormously expensive, is likely to reduce economic growth substantially, and could stifle opportunity for lower income households.

As governments consider policies intended to reduce GHG emissions from autos compact development strategies should be neither mandated nor encouraged, and technology strategies should receive priority.

At the same time, any such policies other than removing government-imposed barriers to new technology development and adoption should be implemented with great caution.

Source: Wendell Cox and Adrian Moore, "Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Automobiles," Reason Foundation, November 29, 2011.

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