Why Is COP26 Ignoring EVs With Two Wheels?

Nine times as many e-bikes were sold as four-wheel EVs.

A Jaguar vehicle at Transport Day at COP26.
It is all about the cars at COP26 Transport Day.

Ian Forsythe / Getty Images

On Transport Day at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), everybody is talking about electric vehicles (EVs) and EV charging. The official declaration published by the British government says "we commit to rapidly accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement." But then they say: "Together, we will work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets."

A major point:

"We will work together to overcome strategic, political, and technical barriers, accelerate the production of zero emission vehicles and increase economies of scale, to make the transition faster, lower cost, and easier for everyone. We will also work together to boost investment, bring down costs and increase the uptake of zero emission vehicles and the many economic, social and environmental benefits it brings."

There is not a peep or a mention about the zero-emission vehicles that can be promoted at the lowest cost, at the fastest pace, and with the greatest environmental benefits: the bike and the e-bike.

A lot of activists have taken to the streets to protest this, and to make the point that bikes and e-bikes are machines that fight climate change. But in so many ways, it seems the parties at this party are trying to wipe bikes and e-bikes out of the picture. Here is an example of how an important document deals with the issue.

At the request of the United Kingdom COP26 Presidency, BloombergNEF produced a Zero-Emission Vehicles Factbook for COP26 that demonstrates how quickly transport is being electrified. It tries to give a balanced view and does actually mention vehicles that are not cars. It notes that in the first half of 2021, sales of passenger-electric vehicles (including plug-in hybrids and fuel cell cars) were 140% higher than in 2019 and reached 7% of global sales.

But it quickly runs into some strange language issues. Discussing the world's fleet of vehicles of all kinds, it notes: "The global fleet of four-wheeled road vehicles continues to rise and currently stands at close to 1.5 billion vehicles. This total includes cars, trucks and buses." It goes on to state that "the global fleet of two- and three-wheelers is almost as big, exceeding one billion." I cannot recall anyone using the number of wheels this way.

They do try to parse their terms, calling out the difference between EVs and zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), without counting wheels:

"For the purposes of this report, we define zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) as those vehicles that never emit carbon dioxide from their tailpipes. This means that ZEVs, in this report, only include pure BEVs and FCVs, neither of which have internal combustion engines. It is understood that these vehicles should be fueled from clean electricity/hydrogen if they are to be truly zero-emission in operation. Electric vehicles (EVs) as a category are commonly understood to include plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)."
electric two-wheelers

BloombergNEF

But wait—there are other kinds of EVs that are not EVs. They are "electric two-wheelers," a term that has to have been invented right here. They did slip once and call them e-bikes. And they note that sales were 9 times higher than passenger EVs, yet somehow this is not important in the larger transportation picture. In Europe, "increasing demand for personal mobility and the availability of purchase incentives drove electric two-wheeler sales up 15% in 2020, to 85,000 vehicles." But none of this is very important. The sale of 27 million electric two-wheelers, the vehicle that shall not be named, gets one page out of 60.

It's not just Bloomberg or the British government that focuses on planes, trains and automobiles and ignores bikes and e-bikes—it's almost universal.

We noted earlier that the European Cyclist Federation submitted a letter noting that "promoting and enabling active mobility must be a cornerstone of global, national and local strategies to meet net-zero carbon targets." Jill Warren, CEO of the ECF, tells the CBC that "it's not surprising that so much attention is given to the electrification of vehicles because the entrenched interests of the automotive industry continue to be strong."

The auto industry is so dominant that even the head of the ECF assumes that only cars are vehicles. Perhaps all of us have to clarify our language. Bikes are vehicles too. E-bikes are EVs. Electric cars should be e-cars and electric vans should be e-vans. The role of bikes and e-bikes transportation and climate action should be recognized.