Petrol cars becoming a 'relic of the past': UN climate tsar hails progress on green transition

UNFCCC's Ovais Sarmad welcomes 'new momentum' ahead of Cop26

The body of a car is seen at the assembly line for the Volkswagen (VW) ID 3 electric car of German carmaker Volkswagen, at the 'Glassy Manufactory' (Glaeserne Manufaktur) production site in Dresden, eastern Germany on June 8, 2021.  / AFP / JENS SCHLUETER
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Petrol cars will soon become a “relic of the past”, a top UN climate official said on Friday as he welcomed what he said was “new momentum” towards achieving the green transition.

Ovais Sarmad said polluting vehicles would one day seem as dated as the Model T Ford, the pioneering American car which was first shipped in 1908.

Mr Sarmad, deputy head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said there were “signs of optimism and transformation in the private sector” as companies prepare for a green future.

“Electric cars are no longer a novelty project for car makers, but central to their long-term success and plans,” he told a Chatham House conference on climate change.

“Soon, we will look at gasoline-powered cars as we would a Model T – novel, but a relic of the past.”

World leaders will be under pressure to accelerate the move away from petrol cars when they gather in Glasgow for November's Cop26 summit.

G7 leaders committed at their summit this month to scaling up technology for zero-emission vehicles, including electric charging infrastructure.

Britain, which wants to use its Cop26 presidency to project global leadership after Brexit, is planning to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Climate change could potentially have a far greater negative impact on humanity than Covid

Mr Sarmad said nations had yet to implement policies which would fulfil the Paris Agreement’s aim of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“I must be very candid about it, all those commitments are very good but we still have to see those turn into action”, he said.

But he said there was a “renewed appetite for progress” not seen since the Paris conference in 2015.

“We feel there is new enthusiasm and a new momentum around international climate action”, he said.

“The signs clearly indicate that climate change could potentially have a far greater negative impact on humanity than Covid. As we know, there can be no vaccine for climate change.”

DRESDEN, GERMANY - JUNE 08: A Volkswagen employee demonstrates the charging of a Volkswagen ID.3 electric car outside the "Gläserne Manufaktur" ("Glass Manufactory") production facility on June 08, 2021 in Dresden, Germany. The Dresden plant is currently churning out 35 ID.3 cars per day. The ID.3 and ID.4 cars are also produced at VW's Zwickau plat located in the same region.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Private sector goals 

Thomas Lingard, the climate and environment director at Unilever, said private companies should help to raise climate awareness among suppliers, investors and the general public.

“This is the single biggest transformation that human civilisation has made since the Industrial Revolution, and we’re going to try and do it in little more than a generation,” he said.

“We want other companies to set science-based targets aligned to the 1.5°C trajectory.

“We’re going to prioritise, going forward, working with suppliers who share our ambitions and share our goals in that regard.”


Gonzalo Munoz, who was nominated by Chile as a High Level Climate Champion to the UNFCC, said it was wrong to assume that shareholders would oppose green agendas at private firms.

“That perception is outdated,” he said.

“In recent years, and I would say even in recent months, we have never seen investors, businesses and governments so engaged around sustainability issues.”

This was a reflection of “the health of our people, planet and the global economy are invariably connected”, he said.

“As we look towards a recovery which must be sustainable, green and inclusive, it is critical that we widen our perspective and recognise that the current situation also presents us with an opportunity to build back better.”