While global car sales might have fallen in 2022, one type of car, with an especially large climate footprint, had a great year: The SUV.
Last year sports utility vehicles accounted for nearly half of all cars sold, with particular growth in the US, India and Europe, according to the International Energy Agency.
This boom comes at a climate cost.
The amount of planet-heating carbon pollution produced by the 330 million SUVs now on the world’s roads rose to around 1 billion tons in 2022. To put that in perspective, if SUVs were a country, they would easily be in the top 10 world’s highest carbon-polluters.
There was some good news for electric cars. While car markets in general shrunk due to factors including supply chain shortages and inflation, electric cars bucked the trend.
Last year, global electric car sales rose by about 60%, exceeding 10 million for the first time, according to the IEA. More than a quarter of cars sold in China were electric, one in five in the European Union and nearly one in 10 in the US.
However, the big increase in electric cars was not enough to offset the growing carbon-pollution impact of SUVs, the majority of which are gas-powered.
These heavier vehicles are less fuel efficient than smaller cars, on average consuming about 20% more fuel than the average medium-sized car, according to the IEA.
While the number of electric SUVs is increasing – last year they made up more than half of global electric car sales and 16% of total SUV sales – they also come with problems. Their bigger batteries require more materials such as cobalt, copper, lithium and nickel, which adds to pressure on supply chains.
“Carmakers are culling small cars in pursuit of profit,” Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at Transport & Environment, told CNN by email. “But larger cars put more pressure on the planet as they need more materials and energy,” she added.
“For drivers, this means more expensive models and higher running costs, especially at a time of high energy prices. Ultimately, Western carmakers might come to regret this,” Poliscanova said.
The IEA called for or car makers to decrease the average car size and invest in battery technologies. “Rapidly increasing the number of electric cars on the road in place of conventional cars is a key part of reaching net zero emissions by mid-century,” it said.