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This Week in Climate: Road Rules for EVs and a Spanish Energy Breakup

In this week's issue of "This Week in Climate", we look at how new laws are boosting EV production from the UK to the US and Spain's long goodbye with the Energy Charter.
Julian Moore
Oct 18, 2022 8 min read
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Nobody likes being told what to do, but for the EV industry in the UK and United States, it’s working out so far.

The Inflation Reduction Act included stringent rules requiring EVs sold in the U.S. to use battery components sourced domestically in order qualify for a maximum $7,500 credit. Many in the EV industry feared those rules would undercut the credit, but the response from manufacturers so far has been a wave of investment in new stateside factories.

Ford, Hyundai, GM and Toyota are among the automakers to announce multi-billion dollar facilities in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina. This year alone, car companies have put up $13 billion for domestic EV manufacturing along with $24 billion for batteries.

The expansion of domestic EV production is also a recognition that American demand for electric cars is strong and growing. Input costs for batteries and EVs have risen sharply this year, but that hasn’t stopped EV start-up Rivian from meeting production targets, while Chevrolet announced it is expanding production of the electric Bolt.

Onshoring battery may become doubly important since the Biden Administration added Chinese lithium-ion batteries to its list of goods known to use child labor last week. The list doesn’t carry any formal sanctions but could foreshadow future action against Chinese battery imports.

Meanwhile in London, air quality is finally on par with other major cities in the three years since it levied stiff penalties on gas/diesel-powered cars in the city center while EV adoption in the city is flourishing.

London’s ban on unpermitted vehicles is precisely the kind of measure that voters often say they hate, and is what led to the coinage of the much feared iron law of climate policy. But since the ban, the number of licensed EVs in London has quadrupled, while the proportion of diesel cars has dropped by a quarter.

The ban has also led London streets to prepare for more EVs in the future. London is now Uber's leading city for rides taken in EVs and the city is adding 260 charging stations every month.

Spain Leaves Energy Charter

Spain announced that it is leaving the Energy Charter Treaty, or, the biggest obstacle to climate goals you’ve never heard of.

The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is a little-known agreement that allows fossil fuel companies to sue European and Eurasian countries that pass laws to phase out fossil fuels. They’re allowed to sue not just for the money already invested in a project, but also for potential future profits they would have made if the project were completed.

And sue they have. Just this August, British oil & gas firm Rockhopper won an eye-watering €190 million ruling against the Italian government, which cancelled the firm’s 2014 permit to drill off the coast of Abruzzo after it outlawed offshore drilling in 2015.

The drilling ban was partially a response to citizen outrage at seeing Rockhopper’s oil rigs emerge on the horizons of picturesque seaside villages that depend on tourism dollars.

The bad news for Spain is that the Abruzzo ruling came a full six years after Italy left the Energy Charter. That’s because the treaty has a sunset provision of twenty years, meaning countries can be sued for phasing out fossil fuels two whole decades after opting out of the ECT.

The Abruzzo case (and at least three others) sets a dubious precedent for climate policy in Europe.

First, the suit may have a chilling effect on climate-focused European countries daunted by the prospect of paying out millions to cancel each oil, coal and gas concession within their borders. One (brilliantly researched) study estimates that as much as €345 billion of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe is covered by the ETC. And don’t forget the future profits.

Second, the Abruzzo suit netted fabulous earnings for Rockhopper’s investors, which turned a €38 million investment into a €152 million profit without pumping a single drop of crude. Maintenance and operation costs are the biggest drag on profits for fossil fuels. Offering big pay-outs without having to take on any of those costs will likely invite more ECT suits, not fewer.

Third, the ETC raises serious questions about the fossil fuel industry’s incursions into national sovereignty. A system where party countries with the temerity to reduce emissions are sued for ungodly sums by foreign investors, in a tribunal based in Washington, D.C., is one which small countries like Slovenia pay dearly if their energy plans happen to conflict with outside interests.

Spain, which has almost phased out coal, is aiming to end all fossil fuel production by 2042 and appears to be unfazed by the threat of lawsuits in spite of the roughly €8.3 billion of fossil fuel infrastructure covered by the ECT under Spanish jurisdiction.

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The Author

Julian Moore