GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N. Environment Program and three other world bodies presented a plan on Wednesday for doubling fuel efficiency in automobiles by 2050, calling it a key test for an industry so closely linked to the problem of global warming.
The "50 by 50" strategy -- standing for 50 percent less gasoline per mile or kilometer by 2050 -- calls for companies to exploit existing technologies for better engines and drive trains, reduced weight and improved aerodynamics. Since the number of autos on roads worldwide is expected to triple by 2050, the plan would not actually cut carbon dioxide emissions from current levels, but in theory would stabilize them.
Still, it was not officially endorsed by any of the car manufacturers present at the Geneva Motor Show, where the plan was launched in a news conference featuring the heads of UNEP, the International Energy Agency, International Transport Forum and Formula-1 racing body FIA.
U.N. environment chief Achim Steiner described the challenge most forcefully, calling for a clean break with the "pipe dreams that some car companies have sold us for 10 or 20 years now while opposing any kind of fuel efficiency standards through government regulatory frameworks."
He said naysayers to the plan would be repeating old mistakes.
The auto industry, Steiner added, had a key role to play because it produces nearly a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions that most of the world's scientific community say are a leading cause of global warming.
"This is a building block to make the transport sector part of the solution to the carbon problem," he said.
The agencies also put out an 18-page report that also offered governments a number of policy options from standards, fuel taxes and green incentives to help limit CO2 emissions from cars. Meeting the target would mean over 6 billion barrels of oil can be saved per year by 2050, a benefit of $600 billion at an assumed price of $100 per barrel, the report said.
Nobuo Tanaka, head of the Paris-based IEA, said new cars should aim to meet the benchmark by 2030. That would take nearly all older, dirtier autos of the road by 2050, since car generations are measured per 20 years. By that time, millions of cars are also likely to be running on electric power or other new technologies, making the overall goal even more realistic for companies and countries.
"We're not saying nobody can have a car," said Jack Short, head of the 51-nation transport forum. "The car has brought so much to people in terms of mobility and independence."