Life cycle assessment of electric scooters: “walking is better”.

E-scooters make sense if they discourage people from driving, says Hamburg-based environmental economist Grischa Perino.

Now also in Hanover: E-scooters Photo: dpa

site: Mr. Perino, e-scooter rental companies claim that the scooters are sustainable. Is that the case?

Grischa Perino: It is simply too early to make an overall assessment. The idea is that the scooters, in combination with public transport, make it easier to do without one’s own car. If mobility modes are replaced that would otherwise have led to pollution, that should be credited on the plus side.

And the negative side?

Here the question is what damage do the scooters themselves cause, and here we have to distinguish: Manufacturing consumes materials and causes emissions. Rare raw materials are used for batteries, for example. How sustainable this is in detail depends on the technology used. In use, no emissions are generated on site for the time being, but bike paths can be clogged or the scooters thrown into the landscape.

Can e-scooters be an alternative to the car, as the Federal Minister of Transport claims?

Probably only for the last mile between the train station and the destination or for residents of the city center. People who live in the surrounding areas of Hamburg will not use e-scooters to get to the city center. The first part of the commute – that is, from home to the first station – would probably be more important, as the distance is often greater. And whether e-scooters would work there would have to be seen.

Is it really environmentally friendly to use an e-vehicle for the so-called last mile?

Only if you would otherwise have taken the car. But walking or using a rental bike would be even better.

What role does the origin of the electricity play?

The electricity sector in Germany is subject to the European emissions trading system. Even if the use of electric scooters increases demand for electricity, this does not directly lead to more CO2 emissions because emissions trading caps the total amount of CO2 emissions. It would therefore only mean a shift in emissions, but not an increase. So for the time being, there is no need to worry about the CO2 emissions associated with electricity generation; in that respect, e-scooters are climate-neutral. The batteries are a different matter: they use resources that are rare and are not always mined under ideal conditions – but that also applies to laptops and cell phones. We should look for alternatives that don’t have this problem.

But electricity is also generated in coal-fired power plants.

Some of it comes from coal-fired power plants, but these are subject to emissions trading. There is only a limited number of certificates that allow you to emit one ton of CO2. A coal-fired power plant must submit a certificate for every ton it emits. If the power plant does not need the certificate, it is sold to an aluminum plant, for example, or to another coal-fired power plant or an airline. The total amount of CO2 emissions remains the same. The climate doesn’t care where the CO2 is emitted. The only way to avoid emissions would be to change the cap in emissions trading. This is primarily the task of politicians. The reform of emissions trading last year was a step forward, but there is still room for improvement.

40, has been Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Hamburg since 2013.

What is the most climate-friendly means of transport in city centers?

Walking and cycling are always better than an e-scooter. Compared to public transportation, especially subway and commuter rail, it probably also draws the short straw.

So what do e-scooters do to reduce CO2 emissions?

That depends mainly on how they are used. If they lead to less car driving, then they help reduce CO2 emissions, otherwise probably not. What’s important is that car emissions are not subject to emissions trading. Reducing these emissions is actually a contribution to climate protection.

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