Copenhagen Conference Faces Shortage of Green Cars

There won’t be hybrids or electric vehicles in the motorcades at Copenhagen.

As an estimated 30,000 people flood the Danish city of Copenhagen for the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, critics are questioning why a climate conference has a carbon footprint larger than most small countries. More than 40,000 tons of carbon are expected to enter the atmosphere as a result of the conference, with most coming from transportation. Leaders and officials flew about 140 private jets to the summit, and are riding in approximately1,200 gas-guzzling limos while there.

While the symbolic act of low-emissions travel may not mean much—witness Ford, GM and Chrysler executives driving hybrids to Washington last year—the fact that organizers were unable to “green” the conference in any substantive way is troubling. It’s been more than 10 years since Kyoto, when nearly every government in the world came together and agreed that carbon emissions must be significantly reduced to prevent catastrophic climate change. Though awareness has grown and some action has been taken, it’s very telling that even the wealthy and powerful still can’t find low-carbon transportation options for a conference that is unlikely to produce much more than a few handshakes.

Limousine service operators in Copenhagen say that only five of the cars they plan to rent this week are hybrids, a dearth they blame on high import taxes. A number of auto companies, including Mercedes, Honda, Citroen and Think, reportedly provided a few dozen electric and alternative fuel vehicles—but those primarily are for demonstration.

Wheels of Progress, Two Instead of Four

“We want to be a test and laboratory country for electric cars, hybrid cars and other new technology,” said Lars Barfoed, the Danish minister of transport, prior to the meeting. “And as host of the climate change conference, that’s made us feel responsible and want to show the world we can do something.” The Danish government backs this promise with a $40,000 tax break on each new electric car—and free parking in downtown Copenhagen. But the number of electric cars on the road today is miniscule.

In January 2009, Shai Agassi of Better Place, a California-based start-up dedicated to building the world’s electric car infrastructure, promised that Denmark would have 100,000 charging spots in place and several thousand cars on the road by 2010. But the company failed to produce a single electric (via its partnership with Nissan-Renault), and only 55 charging spots, by the time of the conference.

The lack of green cars on the ground in Copenhagen suggests that Denmark’s transition to climate-friendly cars is way behind schedule—and that the hybrid and electric car revolution throughout the world will be dictated by market realities rather than photo opportunities and government grandstanding. Then again, for generations, Copenhagen has been one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Perhaps the most important symbolic act that President Obama could take is to travel by bicycle during his visit next week for the wrap-up of the Copenhagen convention. Even if nothing substantive comes out of the meeting, at least Obama would demonstrate a personal commitment to slightly reducing his own carbon footprint.


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  • AC

    The the security of international dignitaries and world leaders has priority over the marketing of ‘green’ products/initiatives. Leaders of nations are not the demographic to test out Phase I of hybrid/electric vehicles.

    There are many other ways to ‘green’ up the conference that were not mentioned in the article. Unfortunately the idea of putting a world leader in a Prius won’t be one of

    Armored vehicles are required to protect the leaders of nations, and it would be a huge waste to try and create as many hybrid versions of security vehicles necessary for even one dignitary for ‘symbolic’ reasons.

    And NO… we do not want the president of the United States riding a bicycle on the public roadways in Copenhagen, while we are combating terrorist in two wars.

  • David

    We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

    Obviously some are more equal than others.

    If executives of corporations can be mocked for conspicuous consumption while begging for handouts, world leaders can be mocked for telling us plebes to cut back while they don’t even TRY. No, I don’t expect Obama in a Prius – but why can’t low-level delegates be in even a *Highlander* hybrid?

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  • James Davies

    I find it laughable in the extreme to call Copenhagen NOT green. They may not have imported so called Green Cars, but no Green Car, is as green as a bicycle.
    Since 37% of people in copenhagen ride bikes to work or study in copenhagen, one could hardly say Copenhagen is not a green city. As I said, no Green Car, is as green as a bicycle. Other countries dont even have 37% of trips done with green car, so how is Copenhagen not green. Get rid of bloody cars. Why dont people look around copenhaged in the non winter months and you will see one of the answers to climate change, and obesity, and air pollution, on the streets beofre your eyes.

    The article is right though on the poiunt that, if leaders want to show they are green ride a bike in the bicycle capital of the world.

  • veek

    Living proof that governments (at least, ours) will not lead us or manage us out of this crisis, and they will not provide a good example to follow.

    I wonder how many Earths it would take to support a planetful of our government leaders.

  • Adrian

    40000 tons of CO2 for people who travel in limos. They finally did not achieve anything. This world is surely going to face huge natural disasters. Instead of coming in cars..why can’t they come in a bus or a cycle. There is nothing wrong in that.

  • Fred Linn

    Brazil is already doing it. Brazil has cut its oil consumption 50%. When you buy regular gas in Brazil, you are actually getting 22-25% ethanol. Most cars are flex fuel and can use Alcool, 85% ethanol. Newer versions can run on 100% hydrous ethanol(straight from the still, no blending needed)—or compressed natural gas—-or any of the above. With the Fiat Siena Tetrafuel, consumers can chose petroleum gas(for trips outside Brazil or Argentina), 25% Brazilian regular(if the price of gasoline is low, or CNG or ethanol is not available)——hydrous ethanol—-or methane, made by treating sewage and mixed with fossil natural gas.

  • Sklep Komputerowy

    Very interesting article. Thank’s 🙂

  • D_S

    “And NO… we do not want the president of the United States riding a bicycle on the public roadways in Copenhagen, while we are combating terrorist in two wars.” True! 🙂

  • Niklas Zweig

    I think it’s simple:
    make a low-weight hybrid car (maybe getz or prius) and find a few ways to charge it like: while stopping, receiving energy from sun, recharging batteries that receives energy from inner movement of the car. I’ve heard that best cameras 2011 will recharge their batteries while shutting mirror and other inner movements due to frictions which will electrify surfaces that will accumulate an electric charge. Low weight will allow to save some energy. There are some mechanisms (like in modern mechanical watches) that makes more friction while moving. I believe it would provide absolutely rechargeable system for modern cars. However, if power is out it may use gas for a short while before it recharge own batteries.

  • joe grey

    Thank you for the great article, please continue to write more…

  • emery cat

    The presidents car isnt a green car and ofcourse they need to have protection with it, when they drive.
    emery cat

  • tapra1

    A number of auto companies, including Mercedes, Honda, Citroen and Think, reportedly provided a few dozen electric and alternative fuel vehicles—but those primarily are for demonstration.Yaneto