Building on its domestic policy achievements, the United States should pave the way for a global agreement on more stringent, long-term fuel efficiency targets, according to new report by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

In 2012, the Obama administration completed historic fuel economy standards that will double the fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025. A year earlier, the United States established first-ever standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that call for a 10-20 percent increase in fuel efficiency by 2018.

As part of his Climate Action Plan, President Obama pledged earlier this year to develop another set of medium- and heavy-duty fuel economy standards that will run through 2025.

Many countries have also put fuel efficiency targets in place, including China, India, Mexico, Japan and European member states. But while 75 percent of cars sold around the world are currently covered by some type of standard, the rate of improvement is modest and most of the standards will expire before 2020, said Peter Ogden, senior fellow at CAP and former director of international climate policy at the National Security Council.

"The U.S. is in a position to both encourage other countries to take on the kind of long-term efficiency standards that it currently has in place for passenger vehicles," he said. "It also has the opportunity to consult and work with other countries as we establish new heavy-duty vehicle standards that the president has committed to having in place before he leaves office."

The report, to be released today, calls on world leaders to launch international negotiations on harmonized fuel economy improvements at upcoming diplomatic events, including the U.N. secretary-general's 2014 Climate Summit and the 2014 G-20 Leaders Summit.

Efficiency savings could be huge
Fuel efficiency hasn't traditionally been a hot topic at climate talks, though it can have significant effect on mitigating emissions. The global transportation sector currently represents one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and has the fastest growing emissions of any sector. On-road vehicles are responsible for 80 percent of that growth.

But tackling fuel economy does more than help mitigate climate change, said Ogden. Improved vehicle fuel efficiency also helps boost economic growth, alleviate local health issues and address energy security concerns.

China, for instance, is heavily reliant on imported oil, which puts the country in a potentially vulnerable position. Today, transportation accounts for more than 40 percent of China's oil consumption and is projected to consume two-thirds of China's oil by 2035.

Vehicle emissions also put people at risk. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths across the world each year, 2.6 million of which are caused by outdoor air pollution.

In a recent report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calculated that death and illness due to outdoor air pollution cost the 34 OECD countries $1.7 trillion in 2010. In China alone, health costs were an estimated $1.4 trillion. And in India, the toll was $500 billion (ClimateWire, May 22).

In contrast, improving fuel efficiency can put money back in people's pockets. The Global Fuel Economy Initiative estimates that improved fuel-economy policies for new passenger cars could spur $3 trillion in new vehicle technology investments. It's estimated these policies will also save $5 trillion in global fuel costs between now and 2025.

For U.S. consumers, new light- and heavy-duty standards are expected to save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs by 2025. The next round of fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are likely to provide further savings.

A simpler political approach to lower emissions?
Compared to trucks on the road today, new trucks can reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent using a variety of cost-effective technologies, according to a new fact sheet co-authored by several U.S. environmental organizations.

"It's critical that the federal agencies set strong standards," Luke Tonachel, senior vehicles analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in an email. "Strong standards will provide the certainty that manufacturers need to invest in new technologies. Strong standards will give truck buyers certainty that their purchases are maximizing fuel savings.

"Both in the U.S. and internationally, freight haulers and city bus fleets are dealing with tight fuel budgets," he added. "They want more efficient vehicles to cut fuel use and reduce the risks associated with the volatile world oil market."

But while a wide variety of countries support fuel economy improvements, the issue risks getting marginalized on a packed international agenda.

"It's a question of prioritizing it and finding space for it in forums where there's a lot of other activity," Ogden said.

In an environment where a comprehensive climate change agreement has failed to materialize, a more palatable topic like fuel economy might just get traction.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500