By Alexander Ayertey Odonkor

Since the early stages of civilization, transportation, which connects people and goods from diverse cultures and geographic locations, enhances trade and investment and promotes economic growth and development, has been a part and parcel of human society.

As an essential driver of economic growth and development, numerous attempts have been made to improve transportation efficiency worldwide. Since the primordial era, there have been significant contributions at every phase of civilization to truncate travel time. Over time, the mode of transport has transformed from walking for several days to riding on horses, camels and animal-drawn wheeled vehicles to using simple boats crafted out of logs and fossil fuel-powered vehicles such as buses and cars.

Compared to the means of transportation during the primeval times, the fossil fuel-driven mode of transportation is faster, reliable and more comfortable; within a few hours, people and goods are transported to destinations that used to take several days or even months.

However, these fossil fuel-powered vehicles have their downsides; they are major drivers of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are known to have deleterious environmental and health impacts, a blight that is exacerbating climate change and threatening human existence.

According to Statista, in 2020, the global transport sector emitted 7.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, with passenger vehicles contributing the lion’s share, representing 41 percent of the global transportation emissions, an indication that motor vehicles are central to providing a solution to this problem.

To effectively address this global challenge, governments will have to completely transform how energy is produced, transported and consumed in the transport sector, eschewing the use of fossil fuel and transitioning to clean energy sources such as electricity to power vehicles.

So far, just a few countries have made outstanding progress in the transition to electric transport, notably China. While China’s contribution in this area is unrivaled, it is worth noting that the United States which is by far the largest producer of transportation emissions worldwide, producing 1.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019, is far behind China in advancing global electric mobility.

Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveal that China is the major driver of global growth in the electric vehicle (EV) market – in 2021 global EV sales reached 6.6 million units, a more than threefold increase over 2019 (2.2 million units). China alone accounts for almost 3.4 million, up from 1.4 million in 2020.

To put it another way, the number of EVs that were sold in China in 2021 exceeds the world’s total in 2020 which is 3 million units. While Europe is the second largest market after China with 2.3 million newly registered EVs in 2021; representing an increase of about 70 percent, for the U.S., 2021 is the first time EVs sales exceeded 500,000 units. Definitely, this is significant progress but clearly the U.S. is not pulling its weight.  

On the other hand, China’s remarkable progress in transitioning to electric mobility presents vital lessons for the U.S. and countries around the world. While most countries are struggling to switch to electric transportation, the Chinese EV market is on track to grow further in 2022 and beyond. So what is supporting China’s growth?

The answer to this important question could be found in China’s people-centered policymaking – By setting clear national goals, committing adequate resources and providing strong leadership, the Chinese government has achieved significant gains via the implementation of pertinent and useful strategies. They have provided China with world-class infrastructure that supports the development and widespread usage of EVs.

For example, based on the data provided by Statista, as of 2020, China had installed over 800,000 (498,000 slow chargers, 309,000 fast chargers) publicly accessible electric vehicle chargers, accounting for more than 60 percent of the world’s total – about 4.5 million EVs accessed these electric vehicle chargers across China. The U.S., which was ranked second, had 98,963 (82,263 slow chargers and 16,700 fast chargers) publicly accessible electric vehicle chargers.

Electric vehicles recharge their batteries at the East Crissy Field charge station in San Francisco, California, the U.S., March 9, 2022. /CFP

Next on the ranking are Netherlands, South Korea, France, Germany and the United Kingdom which placed 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, respectively. Certainly, these countries are making significant progress in advancing the electric transportation transition but China’s global contribution is unmatched.

Recent data has shown that the Chinese government’s germane policies have not only supported growth in the country’s EV market; the global EV market is also benefiting immensely. Apart from advancing research and development in the field, Chinese auto groups such as Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation, SAIC Motor Corporation Limited and Geely have contributed considerably in accelerating electric mobility transitioning around the world.

As reported by Nikkei Asia, through the collective efforts of auto companies in China, the country accounts for the largest proportion of global EV production. Out of the 3.99 million units of EVs produced worldwide in 2021, China accounts for 57.4 percent, followed by Europe, U.S. and Japan which contributed 22 percent, 12 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

To further demonstrate the country’s unflinching commitment to enhancing electric transportation transition worldwide, China exported more electric vehicles than any other country – 499,573 units of passenger EVs in 2021, a 2.6-fold increase. China has strengthened global electric mobility significantly.

Clearly, China’s outstanding progress in this area should call for increased cooperation with countries around the globe and relevant stakeholders, focusing on collaborations that will enhance road transport electrification to achieve zero emissions in both developed and developing countries.