SUV sales drove record carbon emissions in 2023

Still need convincing that it’s time to switch to an electric car? Well, worrying new data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that climate-warming emissions from manufacturing and driving Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) increased substantially last year.

Sales of SUVs reached a record high in 2023, accounting for half of all new cars sold globally, according to data from the IEA. This increase in SUV sales has significantly contributed to rising carbon emissions, which experts identify as a critical driver of the climate crisis.

The IEA’s analysis reveals that emissions from SUVs contributed to 20% of the global increase in CO2 emissions in 2023. If SUVs were a nation, their emissions would make them the fifth-largest emitter of CO2 in the world, surpassing those of Japan and Germany.

In 2023, sales of SUVs grew by 15%, compared to a 3% increase for conventional cars. The IEA attributes the rise in SUV popularity to their status symbol appeal, automotive marketing, and perceptions of greater comfort. However, SUVs pose greater risks in urban environments, causing more significant injuries to pedestrians due to their higher front ends and occupying more space than standard cars.

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Although 20% of new SUVs sold in 2023 were electric or plug-in hybrids, these vehicles require larger batteries, increasing the demand for critical minerals and more electricity to operate.

The trend towards heavier vehicles has counteracted the efficiency gains seen in petrol and diesel cars.

In 2023, there were more than 360 million SUVs globally, emitting one billion tonnes of CO2 — up 10% from 2022. This has led to a 600,000 barrels per day increase in global oil consumption. SUVs weigh 200-300 kg more than medium-sized cars and emit about 20% more CO2.

In wealthy nations, nearly 20 million new SUVs were sold in 2023, achieving a market share above 50%. SUVs also comprised 48% of global new car sales, and one in four cars on the road today are SUVs.

Electric vehicle sales are increasing, with 55% of electric cars sold in 2023 being SUVs. Despite this, experts emphasize the need for vehicle material efficiencies. Countries such as France, Norway, and Ireland are implementing measures to curb SUV demand, while Paris has significantly increased parking charges for larger vehicles. The effect of these higher parking charges will be studied closely by other cities across the globe.

Paris has substantially increased the cost of parking large SUVs.  Other cities will follow the results closely.

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