Phasing Out the Internal Combustion Engine No Easy Task

A report from the Global Climate Action Summit on a looming deadline set by the Paris climate agreement: ending sales of new gas and diesel-powered light-duty vehicles by 2035.

4 minute read

September 18, 2018, 11:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Electric Car Charging Station

Mike Flippo / Shutterstock

"Transportation is the most vexing problem the summit will confront," reported Evan Halper for the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 11, the day before the 3-day Global Climate Action Summit began in San Francisco. Reducing emissions from driving is more complex than reducing emissions from electricity generation, as one energy expert cited in the article observed.

The political leaders coming from around the world for Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate action summit this week will grapple with a lot of urgent deadlines to drive down emissions, but one date is especially exasperating. It is 2035 — the year advocates aim to kill off production of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. 

Internal combustion engine cars need to be off the roads altogether by 2050 to meet the Paris goals. Dealers would need to stop selling new models 15 years earlier.

That will be a heavy lift, according to Peter Tertzakian, executive director of the Arc Energy Research Institute, a Canadian group that analyzes energy investments.

The idea that the internal-combustion engine can be phased out in the next 20 years without government intervention on a massive scale and an unprecedented social awakening among the driving public is foolish, said Tertzakian.

He said most leaders assume the average driver will embrace electric as technology improves, much as parts of the power industry gave up fossil fuels as better systems emerged. But giving up gas-powered cars requires complex shifts in the way people live that don’t come into play when a coal power plant is replaced with a solar or gas plant.

“The Paris agreement was signed three years ago,” Tertzakian said. “The years keep passing, and the substitution [of gas-powered vehicles] is not happening. Look at oil and gas use. It is not decelerating. It is accelerating.”

A new academic study and an updated survey on achieving phase-outs or bans on the sales of new internal combustion engine passenger vehicles by a date certain were released at the conference:

See the table on pg. 2, "Actions of Countries" for the "Status of ICE Vehicle Phase-Out" in the survey. Eighteen countries are listed, from Austria to Taiwan.

Halper illustrates the aforementioned point made by Tertzakian of Arc Energy Research Institute, that "massive government intervention" is a requirement to achieve a phase-out:

The shift toward electric vehicles in parts of Europe and Asia is bolstered by government subsidies and tax structures that few American politicians would consider. They include tough gas-guzzler penalties for those who drive high-horsepower, climate-unfriendly pickups and SUVs, and large cash grants and tax breaks for those who buy electric.

One example of such a policy, not by a nation but by cities, was cited by Yunshi Wang, director of the China Center for Energy and Transportation of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies during a panel discussion, "Gasoline/Diesel Car Phaseouts: New Global Strategy To End Petroleum Use" organized by Coltura and the Sierra Club.

Chinese cities limit the number of cars by restricting access to license plates, unlike most Western countries. Beijing reduced the quota for licenses of cars with internal combustion engines by a third in 2015, resulting "in around 2,000 applicants for every new car that uses diesel or petrol," reported Echo Huang on June 11 for Quartz. A lottery system selects the winners.

By contrast, EV licenses are available on a first come – first served basis, and applications have surged.

Nearly 290,000 applicants (link in Chinese) in Beijing are waiting to get a car plate for “new energy vehicles,” which in China includes EVs and plug-in hybrids, according to data the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport put out on Saturday (June 9). But the city only has a quota of 54,000 (link in Chinese) for this year. Some might have to wait five years to get a plate, according to local news outlet Beijing Youth Daily.

However, Chinese vehicle buyers still want to purchase gas-guzzling SUVs, notes an earlier article in, which emphasizes the need for regulations and market incentives to shift demand.

Additional posts on the historic summit:

  • A three-day global summit on climate action in San Francisco, hosted by Gov. Jerry Brown, is unlike other international climate summits in that it features "non-state actors," such as governors, mayors, and businesses, rather than nations.
  • As climate hawks gather in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit that convenes Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown, host of the summit, is dogged by critics who can't distinguish between oil production and consumption.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 in Los Angeles Times

Aerial view of snowy single-family homes in suburban Long Island, New York

New York Governor Advances Housing Plan Amid Stiff Suburban Opposition

Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious proposal to create more housing has once again run into a brick wall of opposition in New York’s enormous suburbs, especially on Long Island. This year, however, the wall may have some cracks.

March 20, 2023 - Mark H. McNulty

Empty parking garage at night with yellow lines marking spots and fluorescent lighting

Rethinking the Role of Parking in the American City

In cities big and small, the tide is turning against sprawling parking lots, car-centric development, and minimum parking mandates.

March 16, 2023 - The New York Times

A futuristic version of New York City, with plants growing neatly on top of modern skycrapers.

Friday Eye Candy: 20 AI-Generated Cityscapes

AI-generated images are creating new landscapes and cityscapes, capable of inspiring awe or fear.

March 17, 2023 - Chris Steins via Medium

A group of wetsuit-clad swimmers gathers to talk in shallow water near the shore of the San Francisco Bay.

Proposed Pool Would Make an Olympic-Sized Play Area in the San Francisco Bay

The San Francisco Bay is usually an undesirable place to swim, except for a hearty few. A development proposal seeking assistance at the state level would add a pool to the Bay’s waters to make the idea of going for a swim more appealing.

March 24 - The Mercury News

Chicago elevated train over busy city street surrounded by high-rise buildings

Chicagoland Transit Agencies Call for State Funding as Budget Shortfall Looms

Illinois transit agencies want to see changes to a law requiring them to collect half of their revenue from transit fares, arguing that low ridership and staffing shortages will lead to a massive budget gap without intervention.

March 24 - Crain's Chicago Business

Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge

Panel: Minneapolis Zoning Updates Should Reflect Mixed-Use Future

A discussion of post-pandemic changes in work and commuting concluded that the city’s overhaul of its zoning code should be less restrictive with land uses.

March 24 - MinnPost

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

HUD’s 2023 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.