The Rise of SUVs: A Threat to Carbon Emissions Reduction Efforts

A study conducted by climate charity Possible has revealed that a new SUV purchased in 2023 emits more carbon dioxide per kilometer than a conventional engine car bought in 2013. This surge in emissions from Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) is undoing the progress made in reducing carbon pollution from new cars.

The increasing popularity of SUVs in the UK, particularly in urban areas, is contributing to the rise in emissions from fossil-fueled cars, exacerbating the climate crisis. Contrary to the assumption that low-income motorists drive more polluting vehicles, the research showed that the wealthiest households are 81% more likely to own super-heavy emitting cars compared to other income groups.

Despite the affordability of electric vehicles (EVs) for the rich, they are increasingly opting for high-emission SUVs. In fact, three-quarters of new SUVs and two-thirds of large SUVs registered in the UK are found in urban addresses, particularly in affluent neighborhoods like Kensington and Chelsea.

The surge in SUV popularity is not accidental. Industry-wide marketing campaigns have successfully influenced consumers to choose larger, more powerful vehicles over smaller, eco-friendly models, leading to SUV dominance in the new car market.

The Environmental Impact

While the sales of EVs have seen a recent increase, SUVs remain a significant environmental concern, holding over 40% of the market share in the UK. The UK Energy Research Centre reported that for every EV sold in the UK by 2019, 37 new SUVs hit the roads.

Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible, noted that “we are now driving in the wrong direction when it comes to carbon emissions from new fossil-fueled cars.” He expressed concern about the lack of progress in reducing transport emissions and called for urgent action.

A Global Issue

The issue of rising carbon emissions from SUVs extends beyond the UK and is a global problem. Sports utility vehicles accounted for nearly half of all cars sold last year, with significant growth in the US, India, and Europe. The International Energy Agency highlighted that SUVs release more planet-heating pollution than most countries.

Solutions and Recommendations

Possible is urging for a policy shift to tackle this issue, proposing taxes on vehicle emissions based on size. The charity advocates for the implementation of carbon emissions-based parking and road user charges, specifically targeting the heaviest emitters. Additionally, they call for a ban on advertising the most polluting SUVs and policies that make SUV owners financially responsible for the environmental impact of their vehicles.

These approaches aim to make high-emission vehicles, especially SUVs, more expensive to operate and create incentives for consumers to choose greener alternatives. The revenue generated from these charges could support public transportation services, benefiting lower-income households that rely on these services.

Furthermore, addressing the growing presence of SUVs would have additional benefits for crowded city streets. These vehicles are often too big to fit into standard parking spaces and pose a higher risk to pedestrians, particularly children, in collisions. Additionally, they contribute to more toxic particulate pollution from tire wear and cause more damage to the road surface compared to conventional cars.

The findings of this study shed light on the urgent need to address the emissions produced by SUVs and to implement policies that encourage the adoption of cleaner transport options. The shift away from high-emission vehicles is crucial for achieving carbon emissions reduction goals and mitigating the impact of the climate crisis.

– Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV): A type of vehicle designed to offer a spacious interior and increased off-road capabilities.
– Carbon dioxide (CO2): A greenhouse gas released as a byproduct of burning fossil fuels and a major contributor to climate change.

Sources: Possible, UK Energy Research Centre, International Energy Agency