An open two-lane road in the desert stretches off toward the mountains.
Photo: Aldric Rivat/Unsplash

The best EV policies are ones that keep them off the road

Protocol Climate

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Climate’s inaugural June edition. We’re celebrating with a sunset bike ride, which is a perfect segue into today’s newsletter. We’ll be sharing the secret sauce for cleaning up transit, as well as the secret to reducing U.S. carbon emissions. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. (Just kidding, please share this newsletter!)

So you wanna clean up transport

Everyone loves a good EV success story. Record-smashing first-quarter sales? Yes, please! Excitement about the F-150 Lightning? You love to see it. EVs being cheaper to own than gas-powered vehicles? Hell yeah.

A new BloombergNEF report chronicling the expected rise of EVs over the coming decades shows that millions of people will be hopping into them, even absent strong policies. But the report also contains a hidden message for policymakers. No, it’s not just to incentivize EV ownership (though they should do that). It’s that to really cut into gas demand and carbon emissions, some of the best climate tech we have at our disposal is decidedly low tech: bikes, walking and public transit. And investing in those modes of transit could help keep the battery supply chain from further imploding.

EVs are an important piece of the clean transportation puzzle. But they can’t be the only piece. BNEF’s annual transportation outlook shows that relying on markets or personal vehicles alone will leave the climate in a precarious position. The report warns that despite the seemingly rapid rise of EVs, “road transport is still not on track for carbon neutrality by 2050.” That is … not good.

  • Left to the markets, the world will see rising inequality in the distribution of EVs. Poor countries will be left eating richer countries’ EV-kicked-up dust, furthering the uneven impacts of air pollution.
  • Rich countries will also largely miss their targets; the BNEF report finds that Europe would fail to end internal combustion engine sales by 2035 absent new government regulations and incentives. An estimated 800 million gas-powered vehicles would still be on the road globally in 2040. Again, that is not good!
  • The net zero scenario that BNEF modeled shows that the world needs to get 100% EV sales by 2038. To get there will require more stringent government policies to support EV adoption and penalize the use of gas-powered vehicles.

But there’s another tool at policymakers’ disposal: cutting demand. BNEF modeled a reduced demand scenario where we simply do less personal driving. The results show the incredible power of cutting vehicle miles traveled by 10%.

  • Getting people on bikes and two feet and however many wheels a train has could keep 2.25 billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere through 2050.
  • It would also cut battery demand by 433 gigawatt-hours each year, freeing up materials to be used for other batteries for, say, industrial processes or powering the grid at peak hours.
  • It’s not just BNEF; Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, the vice chair for the most recent monster United Nations climate report, said at the report’s launch that researchers found “on an individual level, the biggest contribution comes from switching to walking and cycling and using electrified transport.”
  • Success requires giving people the option, though. More protected bike lanes, denser cities and reliable, cheap (or free!) public transit are a few of the ways policymakers could do just that.

The move BNEF modeled is akin to eating 10% fewer tortilla chips, something I am frankly considering as we enter beach season. It’s a relatively light lift that can pay huge dividends. Given the risks that continuing to burn fossil fuels poses to beach season, the whole “reducing driving demand” thing also seems like a good idea.

— Brian Kahn (email | twitter)

Decarbonizin’ USA

OK, it’s not as catchy as “Surfin’ USA,” but then what is? Nevertheless, getting the U.S. on track to cutting carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 is a goal the Biden administration set, and a recent paper in Science shows the most impactful ways to make sure it happens. One of the co-authors is from the Bezos Earth Fund, adding a layer of intrigue about how the research may inform the $10 billion pot of money set aside by Jeff Bezos to address climate change.

The grid and transportation are the biggest bang for the buck. This is perhaps not surprising given that they’re the two biggest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. The paper used six models to analyze the next eight years and found that cleaning up those two sectors alone could get us up to 89% of the way to the Biden administration’s target — albeit with the right policies.

  • The study shows the right policies would penalize coal to the point where its use drops to basically zero by 2030. It would also encourage renewables to grow at an annual rate of two to seven times higher than their current trajectory.
  • Interestingly, the analysis finds that some models include a not inconsequential amount of natural gas plants with carbon capture and storage, a technique that has proven a complete failure to date.
  • Transportation, not surprisingly, requires switching to EVs. (Don’t forget the walking!) The analysis finds current policies would only get us a little over halfway to where we need to be. More generous tax credits, anyone? (Specifically, Sen. Joe Manchin?)

Existing tech is the key. I know I harp on this regularly, but for all of Silicon Valley’s focus on shiny new solutions like carbon dioxide removal, we already have what we need to start saving ourselves. The Science paper is yet another reminder of this reality. So let me once again tap the “we need heat pumps and boring climate tech” sign. (I’m seriously considering getting a neon version to hang over my couch.)

Will the Bezos Earth Fund throw down for these policies and technologies? That’s the $10 billion question. The fund is different from Climate Pledge Fund, Amazon’s corporate VC fund that does make those more speculative investments. So far, the Bezos Earth Fund has contributed to some initiatives around electric school buses, modernizing the grid and building electrification as well as environmental justice. (It’s also supported more speculative climate tech, too.) The new paper could serve as a road map for where the fund could make its most immediate impacts in terms of tech and policies to support. Consider it the “Jeff Bezos buys everyone a heat pump” challenge.

— Brian Kahn


There are three things that companies need to know when it comes to setting climate goals. The first thing I would say is that if you're going to set a climate goal as a business, it needs to be a businesswide effort. It cannot live within just the corporate responsibility or the sustainability team as it often does.

Learn more

Make it rain

Just what the world needs: more super EVs. Rimac, the Croatian maker of a 1,900-horsepower electric sports car, just closed a series D funding round of $537 million.

ReFED and Closed Loop Partners are aiming to tackle food waste with a $100 million fund.

Even the feds are getting into the climate tech investment space. The Office of Naval Research has committed $32.5 million in new funding for Elemental, a climate tech incubator and policy shop.

Can maps save the world? Digital mapmaker Felt thinks so, and it’s got $15 million in series A funding to help prove it.

Ecolytiq raised $14.4 million to spread its analytics platform, which helps banks show customers the carbon footprint of their transactions. Not that individuals should beat themselves up over the data; in fact, it’s a great way to hold the institutions doing the emitting accountable.

—Brian Kahn

Hot links

Digital transformation is coming, and it could help fix the climate crisis, creating a nice two-for-one. Here’s how to ensure that happens.

Chevy is bucking the EV price-hike trend. While major EV makers from Rivian to Tesla to Ford have jacked up prices in response to inflation and supply chain issues, Chevy is slashing the price of the Bolt to ensure the EV is “competitive in the marketplace.”

Our future depends on land. Climate tech like wind turbines and solar farms need lots of space, and that’s proving to be a challenge.

“Electrically propulsed hydrofoiling vessels” might not roll off the tongue, but startup Boundary Layer thinks they’re the future of freight and ferries.

Want to quit your job to work on addressing climate change? There’s a Slack workspace for that. Can confirm this line of work is both rewarding and maddening.

Rip out your lawn. That’s my unsolicited but wholly correct advice, particularly if you live in Southern California, where unprecedented water restrictions are going into effect as the state suffers through a climate change-fueled megadrought.

What do Denmark, the U.K., Namibia and Botswana have in common? They’re among the only countries on track to hit net zero emissions by 2050.

—Brian Kahn


There are three things that companies need to know when it comes to setting climate goals. The first thing I would say is that if you're going to set a climate goal as a business, it needs to be a businesswide effort. It cannot live within just the corporate responsibility or the sustainability team as it often does.

Learn more


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