The continued global rise in sales of SUVs pushed their climate-heating emissions to almost one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.
The 330 million sport utility vehicles on the roads produced emissions equivalent to the combined national emissions of the U.K. and Germany last year. If SUVs were a country, they would rank as the sixth most polluting in the world.
Climate campaigners are increasingly concerned about the impact of SUVs.
The vehicles are larger and heavier than regular cars and use on average 20 per cent more fuel. The increased number of SUVs in 2022 was responsible for a third of the increase in global oil demand.
Purchases of SUVs have soared in recent years, rising from 20 per cent of new cars in 2012 to 46 per cent of all cars last year, the IEA reports. The rise continued in 2022, including significant growth in the U.S., India and Europe, despite the overall number of cars sold falling slightly.
About one in six SUVs sold in 2022 were electric. But the IEA experts said: “Electric SUVs are growing in popularity, but not quickly enough to offset the increasing oil consumption and emissions of the wider fleet.
“Electric SUVs also require larger batteries to power them, so a growing electric SUV market would impose additional pressure on battery supply chains and further increase demand for the critical minerals needed to make the batteries.”
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Electric car sales soared in 2022, the IEA said, rising by 60 per cent from 2021 to more than 10 million vehicles. However, 29 million non-electric SUVs were sold.
Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at European campaign group Transport & Environment, said: “Carmakers are culling small cars in pursuit of profit. VW, Stellantis and BMW have all said they are moving towards selling fewer cars and focusing on more premium SUV models. But larger cars put more pressure on the planet.”
“For drivers, this means more expensive models and higher running costs, especially at a time of high energy prices,” she said. “Given the stakes, regulators should ensure European small cars don’t disappear. The best way is to tax big cars. Subsidies for electric cars should support entry-level EVs that are made in Europe.”
In 2021, the U.K.’s National Audit Office reported that rising sales of SUVs and an increase in road traffic had cancelled out reductions in CO2 emissions from electric car sales.