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Electric Vehicles and Their Impact on Climate Change

Internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) that have dominated the market over the recent decades are now giving way to electric vehicles (EV) experiencing rapid growth. Such a tendency marks an essential economic transition from fossil-fueled ICEVs to greener means of transport and implies a possibility for humankind to lessen its environmental footprint. A broad-scale implementation of electric cars is an objective of many countries around the world as part of the effort to address the climate change problem. In particular, President Biden set a goal for the country’s transition to EVs. As reported by the Staff of The Morning (2021), he declared that “by 2030, half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. should be electric” (para. 1). Hence, it is crucial to study the reasons behind the rapid development of electric cars. Innovative vehicles can reduce and eliminate the harmful effects of global warming, contributing to the solution of the environmental problem. This paper aims to explore the working principle and differences between EVs and ICEVs, as well as study the impact of electric cars on the environment and climate change.

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Conventional Vehicles vs. EVs

To begin with, it is necessary to identify the technology enabling a shift to greener transport and explore the difference between electric vehicles and conventional internal combustion engine cars. According to Choudhury (2021), “the number of electric cars, buses, vans and heavy trucks on roads is expected to hit 145 million by 2030” (para. 2). Such market growth and the increasing popularity are possible due to the advancing technology which enables manufacturers to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles.

The power source constitutes the primary difference between conventional cars and EVs. An internal combustion engine refers to a heat engine where the chemical energy of the fuel burning in the work area is converted into mechanical work. As stated by Brennan and Barder (2016), ICEV-generated environmental impacts are “localized to the combustion of gasoline in the vehicle engine” (p. 2). Carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced, which is known as a critical greenhouse gas (GHG) whose increased concentration in the atmosphere amplifies the natural greenhouse effect of the Earth. In turn, an electric engine can be defined as a machine that converts electrical energy into mechanical and consists of a rotating part, namely the rotor, and a fixed part, or the stator (Brennan & Barder, 2016). There are electric motors of direct and alternating current, and the latter is divided into synchronous and asynchronous. Asynchronous electric motors, in turn, are divided into ones with a short-circuited rotor and phase rotor.

Furthermore, different types of EVs are available for the consumer to choose from. They include hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) (Brennan & Barder, 2016). The recent accomplishments in the lithium-ion battery technology for operating range, vehicle application, and driving attitudes of BEVs are starting to meet the requirements of passenger car users (Brennan & Barder, 2016). Besides, the new type of customer emerges and can be characterized as environmentally aware. As a result, the demand for EVs is expected to continue to grow in the coming years.

Power Source

The power source is an essential aspect of EV technology to discuss. There is a debate regarding the emissions attributed to the production of the energy used in electric vehicles. As stated by Choudhury (2021), “electricity grids in most of the world are still powered by fossil fuels such as coal or oil, and EVs depend on that energy to get charged” (para. 10). This characteristic implies that electric car battery production is an energy-intensive process, and its impacts on climate change must be examined further.

Some studies show that fewer emissions are associated with conventional car manufacturing in comparison to the fuel and battery production of an EV. For instance, Choudhury (2021) reports that a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology proves this hypothesis; nevertheless, “those higher environmental costs are offset by EVs’ superior energy efficiency over time” (para. 11). Furthermore, it is worth noting that energy produced through renewable sources enables a greener approach and more environmentally-friendly outcomes for electric cars. In this scenario, the statement regarding a zero-emissions policy appears closer to the truth. Overall, while EVs continue to contribute to CO2 emission production, the total GHG impact is expected to decrease in the long term.

EV Batteries

The lithium-ion battery is another critical aspect of EV production and maintenance that needs to be discussed in relation to climate change. As reported by Choudhury (2021), “the total emissions per mile for battery-powered cars are lower than comparable cars with internal combustion engines” (para. 12). At the same time, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries remain the biggest emitter since a number of processes are involved in their creation, including lithium and cobalt mining, production at gigafactories, as well as transportation. In this regard, it takes less to produce a petrol-fueled car. According to Choudhury (2021), “between 30% to 40% extra in production emissions” are attributed mostly to EV battery manufacturing which highlights the importance of this problem (para. 21). Nevertheless, the positive outcome can be seen over time as the emissions prevented by running on cleaner energy make an electric vehicle a better option than a traditional car to address climate change (Calma, 2021). In addition, the recycling of EV batteries could eventually decrease the carbon intensity of this mode of transport.

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Impact on Climate Change

Given the positive environmental outcomes associated with the transition to greener transport, electric vehicles can be seen as an integral part of the world’s effort to address climate change. Governments of different countries promote electrically powered vehicles as the key technology that can limit oil use and combat climate change (Tabuchi & Plumer, 2021). In particular, President Biden is committed to expand EV use in the United States and reduce gas-powered vehicles, known as a remarkable contributor to GHG emissions in the country. The Staff of The Morning (2021) notes that as of June 2021, “less than 4 percent of the new cars sold in the U.S. were electric or plug-in hybrids” (para. 8). This data suggests that a rapid change is needed to achieve Biden’s goal. Technologically, it is feasible to replace most fossil-fueled cars with electric models. Nevertheless, as stated by the Staff of The Morning, the question is whether “an electric-car revolution [can] happen in less than a decade” (para. 4). Both the possibilities and problems associated with this scenario should be examined, along with the impact on climate change.

EVs’ Achievement and Impact on Climate Change

As discussed above, the most complicated and environmentally controversial element of the electric car is its battery. ICEVs emit GHG as a result of the gasoline combustion in the engine. In turn, it is the energy source used to produce and power the lithium-ion battery that defines the carbon footprint of the EV. For instance, some of the older Chinese gigafactories manufactured batteries powered by fossil fuels since this trend was prevailing a decade ago (Choudhury, 2021). Hence, they are associated with a larger amount of CO2 emissions. As people become aware of the issue, more companies aim to use renewable sources of energy throughout the EV supply chain.

The battery technology in the automotive industry has evolved since the introduction of BEVs in the market. This statement implies that both the environmental outcomes of EVs and the accessibility for consumers have improved. For instance, as noted by Brennan and Barder (2016), the kilowatt-hour (kWh) price of the lithium-ion battery packs declined “from $1,126 in 2010 to just $300 in 2015” (p. 1). The maintenance cost is lower for BEVs due to the relatively simple battery-electric motor system.

Moreover, research findings show that EVs ‘ impact on climate change is less damaging than that of traditional vehicles. Calma (2021) emphasizes that emissions are minor, “whether an EV plugs into a grid in Europe with a larger share of renewables, or a grid in India that still relies heavily on coal” (para. 1). A report by Brennan and Barder (2016) supports this claim by emphasizing that “BEVs will produce even lower levels of greenhouse gases relative to ICEVs” (p. 3). Furthermore, people come to the realization that renewable energy sources and ethical practices should become part of the electric vehicle supply chain, which enables a further positive impact on climate change.

Challenges For a Shift to EVs

It is a well-known fact that fossil fuels largely contribute to the climate crisis, which encourages governments to phase out ICEVs and provide accessible EVs for the population. Despite the efforts, the automotive industry still heavily relies on nonrenewable energy sources, which defines one of the major challenges for transitioning to EVs. Furthermore, the transportation system conversion and an increased capacity to produce electric cars imply potential job losses (Staff of The Morning, 2021). To enable a smooth shift from ICEVs to EVs, careful planning is required.

In addition, recycling effort is needed from manufacturers due to the limited nature of raw materials used for battery production. Currently, only a few of the battery cells are recycled, which poses an additional challenge for addressing the problem. At the same time, decarbonizing the grid should be among the primary objectives of the governments and companies aiming to eliminate their contribution to climate change. Furthermore, according to Choudhury (2021), policies are required for societal change “that promotes greater use of public transportation and alternative modes of travel, including bicycles and walking” (para. 37). The full capacity and benefits of electric cars can be realized when the electricity sources become renewable and ethical.

To conclude, a shift from ICEVs to electric vehicles would become an essential step towards eliminating the climate change problem. In traditional cars, environmental impacts are attributed to the gasoline combustion in the engine, which results in the GHG emissions polluting the environment. In turn, while the supply chain of EVs still involves adverse ecological effects due to the production of lithium-ion batteries, the lifetime emissions for electric cars are lower as compared to ICEVs.

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Brennan, J. W., & Barder, T. E. (2016). Battery electric vehicles vs. internal combustion engine vehicles: A United States-based comprehensive assessment. Web.

Calma, J. (2021). One of the biggest myths about EV’s is busted in new study. The Verge. Web.

Choudhury, S. R. (2021). Are electric cars ‘green’? The answer is yes, but it’s complicated. CNBC. Web.

Staff of The Morning. (2021). A push for electric vehicles. The New York Times. Web.

Tabuchi, H., & Plumer, B. (2021). How green are electric vehicles? The New York Times. Web.

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