The Role of Electric Vehicles in Reducing Climate Impact

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To meet the Paris agreement, CO2 emissions from road transport need to be severely lowered. In Sweden, as in many other countries, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) is increasing rapidly. This has led to a recurring debate on whether EVs will help reduce climate impact or not. The aim of this article is to analyze the Swedish debate on the climate impact of EVs with respect to framing and validity of the arguments. Thirty-one opinion pieces published between 2010 and 2018 are studied. Two discourse coalitions are identified; supporters and opponents of EVs. The opponents’ main argument is that EVs use imported, coal-fired electricity with high CO2 emissions. The supporters argue that EVs use Swedish, fossil-free electricity, thereby causing no CO2 emissions. Neither coalition’s arguments are wholly valid, but nor are they wholly false. Swedish electricity production is largely fossil-free, but, at times of high electricity demand, fossil-based electricity is imported. Thus, Swedish EVs often use fossil-free electricity, but sometimes they do not. This is likely to continue with a large-scale transition to electromobility. Both discourse coalitions motivate their positions with a desire to reduce climate impact. EV supporters are optimistic about technology development and frame EVs as fundamental for future carbon-neutral possibilities. While EV opponents are pessimistic, their framing of the issue implies a need for society to assume responsibility for sustainability in a wide system perspective. This should be acknowledged and used by policy-makers to ensure that EVs’ full potential for climate change mitigation be realized.