BMW Won’t Pledge Zero-Emissions Until ‘Poorer Countries Do Their Job’

A BMW sustainability exec commented that some nations are delaying infrastructure changes “until somebody dumps money on them.”

byHazel Southwell|
BMW News photo

Twenty-four countries and a group of car manufacturers including Ford, Volvo and Mercedes signed an agreement last week to stop selling internal combustion-engined cars by 2040 at the COP26 climate change conference. But not BMW—or, to be fair, a couple of other brands including Toyota and Volkswagen—which has been quite vocal on explaining its reasoning ever since: poorer countries need to hold up their end of the deal.

There's a bunch of completely fair reasons that you can argue combustion would still be necessary after 2040, especially in developing nations and ones less easily able to build out a charging infrastructure. Mothballing combustion machinery has its own environmental cost and if a combustion engine fails it's not trivial to drop in an electric motor as a replacement. As the climate crisis escalates, extreme conditions in the worst affected regions risk breaking down already-vulnerable infrastructure. And it's not practical to pretend that everyone will be carried around by glistening Tesla bots in the next two decades (or ever).

What might be surprising, coming from BMW (who is a partner of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, promoting equality and cultural exchange) is that it—according to head of sustainability strategy Thomas Becker—won't sign up because it thinks poorer countries are dragging their feet on electric vehicles until "someone dumps money on them."

Becker told Dezeen that key developed markets like the Netherlands and Norway, where the ban on combustion sales is set to kick in come 2025, "will be fully electric and we will only sell electric cars here." However, he continued that BMW could not sign the pledge because it was not "sure that the guys in Italy will do their job properly."

BMW backed that position up in slightly milder and less specific terms by issuing its own statement. "We have zero emission technology ready today," it reads. "However, BMW is not able to sign this document at this point as there remains considerable uncertainty about the development of global infrastructure to support a complete shift to ZEVs, (Zero-Emissions Vehicles) with major disparities across markets."

The electric BMW iX, BMW

BMW's CEO Oliver Zipse delivered the keynote speech for automakers at COP26, saying, "The key to sustainability lies in innovation: in innovative technologies, but also in innovative thinking that accepts no boundaries. Most importantly, together we must choose and follow a binding path with clear goals. Always according to the motto: No more waiting. No more clever tactics. It’s time to act. Now."

The brand did commit to total climate neutrality by 2050 and has signed the Business Ambition for 1.5C pledge. This says it's dedicated to avoiding more than what scientists now say is the minimum expected global temperature rise as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change. However, Italy seemed to be a sticking point with any further decision.

"These guys just wait until somebody dumps money on them to get the job done," Becker told Dezeen. "They won't do it. We should have binding targets, which ensure that also the poorer countries do their job."

Acccording to Dezeen, that was paired with the suggestion that countries should be helped to build infrastructure from the UN's $800 billion COVID recovery fund.

As part of its statement, BMW Group did confirm that combustion would only continue for its core brand, after 2030, saying "with their different usage profiles—shorter driving distances and largely urban use—all MINI and Rolls-Royce models built from the early 2030s onwards will be BEV only."

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