The European Parliament on Tuesday gave its final approval to a ban on new sales of carbon-emitting petrol and diesel cars by 2035, with a view to getting them off the continent’s roads by mid-century.
European Union member states have already approved the legislation and will now formally nod it into law at an upcoming ministerial meeting, despite opposition from conservative MEPs, the parliament’s biggest group.
Supporters of the bill had argued to that it would give European carmakers a clear timeframe in which to switch production to zero-emission electric vehicles, and spur investment to counter competition from China and the United States.
This, in turn, will also support the European Union’s ambitious plan to become a “climate neutral” economy by 2050, with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“Let me remind you that between last year and the end of this year China will bring 80 models of electric cars to the international market,” EU vice president Frans Timmermans warned MEPs.
“These are good cars. These are cars that will be more and more affordable, and we need to compete with that. We don’t want to give up this essential industry to outsiders.”
But opponents argued that neither European industry nor many private motorists are ready for such a dramatic cut off in production of internal combustion engine vehicles — and that hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk.
“Our proposal is … to let the market decide what technology is best to reach our goals,” said MEP Jens Gieseke, a member of the centre-right European People’s Party.
Gieseke declared that arguments from Green and socialist MEPs that electric cars are cheaper to run had been rendered “null and void” by the crisis of soaring energy costs.
“In Germany 600,000 people work on ICE production, those jobs are at risk,” he declared, urging the European Commission to rethink plans to also extend the ban to trucks and buses.
The EPP group warned of what it said would be the “Havana effect” — Europeans continuing to drive vintage fuel-burning cars after new sales are banned because they can’t find or afford an electric.
Opponents also argue car batteries are produced abroad by Europe’s competitors like the United States, but Timmermans argued that thanks to EU-backed investment European production would increase.
Green MEPs stressed the importance of the ban in reducing emissions and pollution.
– Victory for the planet? –
Karima Delli, president of the transport committee, declared: “Today’s vote is a historic vote for the ecological transition.
“We will no longer, or almost no longer, have petrol or diesel cars on our roads in 2050 … it is a victory for our planet and our populations”
Cars currently account for about 15 percent of all CO2 emissions in the EU, while transportation overall accounts for around a quarter.
In October last year, EU member states, the European Commission and parliament’s negotiators agreed on a proposal to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars in Europe to zero by 2035.
In practice, in the final legislation, this means a halt to sales of new petrol and diesel cars, light commercial vehicles and hybrids in the bloc by that date, in favour of all-electric vehicles.
– US green subsidies –
Car-making giant Germany and conservative MEPs have been dubious about the new rules, fearing the burden of re-tooling their plants and retraining workers while global rivals have looser targets.
But the European car industry itself did not lobby hard against the law, with many firms already jockeying for position in the race to become electric vehicle giants.
Since the law began its journey through the EU legislative process, however, the United States has unveiled a huge plan to subsidise the green transition of its own industry with government hand-outs.
This has led to fears in Europe that its US rival will siphon away investment and jobs in electric vehicle and battery production.
Currently around 12 percent of new cars sold in the European Union are electric, with consumers shifting away from CO2-emitting models as energy costs and greener traffic regulations bite.
Meanwhile, China — the world’s biggest automobile market — wants at least half of all new cars to be electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen-powered by 2035.
The law passed the Strasbourg assembly by 340 votes to 279, with 21 abstentions.
Amazon empowers Alexa with generative AI
Amazon’s popular Alexa digital assistant is about to be supercharged with the powers of generative artificial intelligence, the company said on Wednesday, as the tech giant steps into the AI race dominated by ChatGPT, Google and Microsoft.
Voice assistants like Alexa or Apple’s Siri are often designated as perfect candidates to have their sometimes-glitchy and robot-like technology streamlined with capabilities of generative AI.
Generative AI, such as used in the ChatGPT chatbot, delivers content as complex as a poem or scholarly essay in just seconds, and Amazon’s goal is that Alexa could do that and even more with verbal commands from a user’s living room or kitchen.
At an event at the company’s offices near Washington, the company said that an English-language version of Alexa AI would be made available as an opt-in on all its devices in the United States in the coming months.
“It’s going to take some time to integrate these technologies into the surface area that is Alexa. But I am super optimistic that we are off to a wonderful an excellent start,” said Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services.
With the change, Alexa will be able to converse with a more personable style and drop its robotic tone, the company said.
Alexa would also tap into real-time information and create the semblance of a personal rapport with users that would include an awareness of their habits or favorite sports teams.
“For example, you could say ‘Alexa every morning at 8 am turn on the coffee machine, open the blinds, dim the lights in the study and play my morning news,’ and boom — it creates the routine,” Limp said.
While widely plugged as the next stage of consumer technology, in the past decade Alexa and its connected smart home devices have yet to become big money spinners for Amazon, with Google and Apple also struggling to make traction in the space.
Daniel Rausch, the executive in charge of Alexa, told reporters that the AI would put an extra emphasis on accuracy and that its efforts in AI were not comparable with chatbots that have been shown to output inaccuracies or go off the rails.
“Accuracy in smart home means yes, we did turn on the right light, we did lock the right door, we are sure about the state of the security system,” he said.
At the launch event, Amazon also introduced its latest Echo 8 smart home hub as well as a soundbar for televisions and new AI-fueled search capabilities on its FireTV service.
Limp, Amazon’s longtime device chief, is retiring after more than a decade in the role amid reports he will be replaced by a senior executive from Microsoft.
Biden launches ‘climate corps’ for green jobs
US President Joe Biden launched a new “Climate Corps” on Wednesday to help young people get green jobs, as he tries to sell voters on his plans for a clean energy economy.
“Today, we are mobilizing the next generation of clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience workers,” Biden said on X, formerly Twitter.
Biden added that the scheme would train over 20,000 young people to get “good-paying jobs” after they complete their paid training.
The US president has made the economy a key plank of his bid for reelection in 2024, particularly through his signature Inflation Reduction Act.
The ambitious climate law aims to speed the US transition to clean energy, rebuild US industry and boost social justice.
Biden, who is in New York for the UN General Assembly, warned the world body yesterday that the climate crisis poses an existential threat to “all of humanity.”
US climate activists, who have long called for the initiative, gave it a mixed reception.
One group, Evergreen, said it was a “big step toward delivering good jobs for young people in the booming clean energy economy.”
But Keanu Arpels-Josiah, an organizer of an anti-fossil fuels march in New York last Sunday, said it was “not enough.”
The Climate Corps’ name has echoes of the US Peace Corps which has sent volunteers around the world for decades.
US media said however that it was more closely modelled on a scheme during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to get America out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The Civilian Conservation Corps set around a quarter of a million unemployed young men to work on a huge program of projects like reforestation and dam-building.
Tire maker honored for tackling electric car pollution
Electric cars are widely hailed as the future of transport, but even though they eliminate the issue of fuel emissions from tailpipes, the problem of particle pollution as a result of tire wear hasn’t been resolved.
A British company selected as a finalist for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize now promises more durable tires that increase vehicle range and decrease the emission of toxic chemicals.
“We have here a very harmful and hidden pollution,” Gunnlaugur Erlendsson, founder and CEO of ENSO, which caters specifically to electric vehicles, told AFP. “We’re exposed to it whenever we breathe.”
Because of decades of regulations that brought about improvements to internal combustion engines, tire and brake wear are today responsible for significantly more small particle pollution than vehicle exhausts, studies show.
Tire wear particles are also microplastics, with emerging evidence linking them to a range of impacts on heart and lung health, as well as cancers, in addition to widespread environmental harm.
For example, as much as 28 percent of the microplastics that reach the ocean comes from tire wear.
Some research suggests that electric cars might be worse offenders than gasoline and diesel powered vehicles on this front.
A study carried out by the research company Emissions Analytics this year found that the Tesla Model Y was responsible for 26 percent more emissions than the similar-sized hybrid Kia Niro. The report’s authors said the electric car’s heavier weight and harder acceleration was to blame.
Erlendsson disagrees with the idea that electric cars are uniquely problematic — rather, the tire pollution problem has grown as vehicles become heavier, with the US market in particular trending towards large SUVs.
By using higher-grade raw materials combined with better engineering, ENSO has been able to improve its tires in a market that hasn’t prioritized durability.
During real-world trials organized by Transport for London, the company’s tires were shown to reduce particulate emissions by 35 percent and increase driving range by 10 percent.
“The energy saving we deliver is a direct carbon reduction because we still don’t live in a world where electricity comes only from non-carbon sources,” said Erlendsson.
By contrast, the wider industry is focused on cost-saving, making tires that don’t last as long and need to be replaced faster, in order to boost sales. Researchers in the field of tire pollution are demanding stricter regulation, a call Erlendsson agrees with.
All that said, there are limits, he stressed. “We won’t make tires last forever, but we can severely reduce the pollution that comes off them,” he said.
“But of course, if people don’t want to be generating tire pollution, they shouldn’t be driving.”
ENSO was among 15 Earthshot Finalists honored on Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
They are now in the running to receive one of five one million pound prizes ($1.24 million) awarded at a ceremony in Singapore later this year.
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