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SUVs have ‘crushing’ impact on French climate goals says NGO

WWF France today (October 6) denounced the use of SUVs for their “crushing” impact on the environment, and suggested ways to reduce the damage.

The NGO wrote that a decade of SUV use had “weighed heavily on the French trajectory for greenhouse gas emissions”. 

It wrote: “In the past 10 years, SUVs have been the second biggest contributor to a rise in French emissions.”

The NGO claims that SUV usage could significantly impact French attempts to drastically reduce carbon emissions in order to meet international climate targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

SUVs highest-selling model in France

Since 2008 there has been a boom in demand for SUVs in France, with sales rising to capture 38.93% of the market in 2019. 

In France, and in Europe, SUVs are now the highest-selling car model.

SUV sales have increased drastically since 2002. (Image: FranceInfo / Twitter)  

SUVs, or sports utility vehicles, are cars with four-wheel drive engineering that can improve traction in difficult driving conditions. However, many owners buy them for use as city vehicles or general use cars despite the fact that, as the report states, they “emit on average 20% more greenhouse gasses than all other cars”.

WWF (The World Wide Fund for Nature) France estimates that replacing SUVs bought in France the last decade with regular cars would have saved at least the equivalent of 0.6million tonnes of CO2.

Electric SUVs alone will not solve problem 

The NGO predicts a few potential scenarios for 2030.

The first, if SUV use continues to rise, is that there will be a “consequential excess” in CO2 emissions compared with the climate objectives set for the country in France’s Stratégie nationale bas carbone (SNBC).

The second scenario factors in sales of electric SUVs, which the NGO predicts will reduce emissions by 14% compared with the first scenario. 

The third scenario sees sales of saloon cars, which are “lighter and less powerful”, replacing SUVs in cities. Reducing SUV usage to 10% of the market by 2030, combined with a rise in electric SUV usage could “significantly increase” the likelihood of making considerable CO2 savings.

Finally, the fourth scenario named “Restraint” (Sobriété). This factors in a fall in SUV sales, a rise in electric SUV usage, and a fall in car usage in general with more journeys being made by public transport or bike. 

This would allow the transport sector, which is responsible for 30% of French greenhouse gas emissions, to meet targets set by the Paris Agreement and SNBC objectives.


Social impact of SUVs also criticised

A second report from WWF France criticised the social consequences of SUVs. Lower income families, who are more likely to buy second hand cars, could pay “up to 30% more” for a used, mid-range SUV than a used, mid-range saloon car, according to the report.

SUVs are also more expensive to maintain, using 20% more fuel. The NGO estimates that if SUV sales continue to rise at the same rate, by 2030 households with SUVs will pay an extra €408 per month compared with households that have saloon cars.

In contrast it predicts that the carbon tax proposed by the French government, which sparked the gilets jaunes movement in France in 2018, would cost each household “around €38 per year for a household, meaning 12 times less”. 

NGO suggests financial incentives

WWF France supports the idea of increasing taxes on heavier vehicles as a method of deterring people in France from buying SUVs. It has also suggested staggering parking prices so that heavier, larger vehicles pay more, and hopes to see such measures implemented at a European level. 

In France, it suggests extending financial support for buying electric cars to other methods of transport in the form of a “multi-use cheque”.

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