EVs - Good for your health and the planet

We are all familiar with the role vehicle transport plays in releasing Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. In NZ, nearly 70% of all transport CO2 emissions are from cars, SUVs, utes, vans and light trucks. In Australia, passenger cars and light commercial vehicles alone contributed 60% of transport emissions and over 10% of the country’s total emissions.

These emissions, together with those being released by industry, agriculture, and energy production, have been identified as the primary cause of the severe weather conditions being experienced worldwide. Australia and New Zealand have also witnessed the effects this and are pursuing a range of measures to reduce emissions.

To achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, NZ has brought in the Clean Car Discount which rewards EVs buyers and The Clean Car Standard to regulate vehicle importers and reduce CO2 emissions to specific targets. It is anticipated that these measures will work together to improve the supply and the demand for low and zero CO2 emission light vehicles entering New Zealand

To help deliver on its goal of net zero emissions by 2050, Australia is also looking at a raft of initiatives to support EV uptake, including: Electric Car Discount legislation, which is already making EVs cheaper and Australia’s first National Electric Vehicle Charging Network, to roll out chargers on average every 150 kilometres on major highways.

Our governments are reacting to the clear and present danger posed by global warming by targeting human activities, which 97% of publishing climate scientists agree is the cause.

It has taken a climate crisis to generate concerted action on the harm caused by internal combustion engine vehicles, but the problems caused by these vehicles reaches far beyond the weather.

According to the research in NZ, transport is responsible for two thirds of the harm estimated to be caused by human-made air pollution. Each year in New Zealand harmful emissions result in:

  • The premature deaths of more than 2,200 adult New Zealanders
  • More than 9,200 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac illnesses
  • Over 13,200 cases of childhood asthma
  • Social costs of $10.5 billion

The story is much the same in Australia. Where research conducted by Melbourne Climate Futures, shows that annually vehicle emissions in Australia may cause:

  • 11,105 premature adult deaths
  • 12,210 cardiovascular hospitalisations
  • 6,840 respiratory hospitalisations
  • 66,000 active asthma cases.

For context, road accidents across Australia in 2021 resulted in 1,123 premature deaths – that is 10 times less than the number of deaths resulting from air pollution.

This is because, in addition to greenhouse gases, petrol and diesel vehicles also release nitrogen oxides and particulate pollution that are harmful to our health. Exposure to nitrogen oxides causes respiratory and cardiovascular damage and can contribute to smog. Particulates can cause lung cancer, and both forms of pollution contribute to asthma. 

We could be forgiven for thinking that removing lead from petrol (1996 in NZ and 2002 in Australia) eliminated the major health-harm effects of vehicle pollution, but the problems have continued. Looking at the statistics for pollution harm in NZ and Australia provides further support for switching to EVs, beyond improving the health of the planet.

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