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Net emissions from electric cars

March 2020: Electrification of passenger road transport and domestic heating may lead to emissions reductions, regardless of the source of the electricity. The reports support the expansion of electric heat pumps and electric cars alongside decarbonising electricity generation, insulating homes, and improving public transport to reach emission targets.


Key element for many countries to reduce GHG emissions and to achieve their climate change targets is the electrification of passenger road transport and household heating. However, frequent concern is expressed about whether electric cars could increase GHG emission if electricity is not decarbonised first. New evidence shows that at current carbon intensities of electricity generation, electric cars and heat pumps are already less emission intensive than fossil-fuel based alternatives in 53 world regions, representing 95% of global heating and transport demand. Exceptions are countries with heavily coal-dependent electricity generation, such as Poland. 

Implications and opportunities

The paper supports current policy strategies and frameworks that favour the electrification of passenger road transport and heating to reach emission targets. It supports this alongside decarbonising electricity generation, insulating homes, and improving public transport. In addition, the report casts a favourable light on electrification as a credible alternative to natural gas as a means to decarbonise transport and domestic heating. The authors acknowledge that the emission savings will vary depending on the source of electricity, efficiency of supply chains and the efficiency of electric vehicles.



The paper uses data from 59 world regions with heterogenous households to model bottom-up life-cycle assessments and all results should be seen within the context of the study’s methodological limitations.



Harrabin, R., (2020). Electric car emissions myth ‘busted’. Retrieved from

Knobloch, F., et. Al. (2020). Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.