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Why should the EU implement electric vehicles? Viewing the relationship between evidence and dominant policy solutions through the lens of complexity

Di Felice, L.J.; Renner, A.; Giampietro, M.

Electric vehicles are a dominant policy solution in the EU. In policy documents, a transition to electric vehicles is justified through promises of a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and oil imports, as well as positive impacts on citizens (through reduced pollution) and the economy (through a boost in manufacturing and the generation of jobs). The evidence supporting such claims remains uncertain. Taking a stance that is grounded in complexity science, we introduce a hierarchical mapping of policy mechanisms, concerns and solutions – the elements making up policy narratives. Building on this mapping, we focus on questioning the solution-justification relationship for electric vehicles, by critically inspecting the material coherence between these justifications and the existing existing evidence. A targeted review shows how, for example, positive economic impacts largely depend on the location of battery and car manufacturing; or GHG emission reductions depend on promises of decarbonisation of the electricity sector, as well as on driving behaviours. Innovations are not just material objects, and such evidence does not necessarily weaken the dominant policy solution, nor the socio-technical imaginary it is grounded in. By questioning the material coherence of EV justification narratives in the EU, this case study points to a discussion about the effects of dominant policy narratives on the generation of science, warning against policy-based evidence in the co-creation of socio-technical imaginaries.


The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 689669 (MAGIC), "the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, through the "María de Maeztu" program for Units of Excellence (CEX2019-000940-M), and the Government of Catalonia (AGAUR)through the support for Research Groups (2017 SGR 230). A. Renner acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, through the "formación de profesorado universitario" scholarship program (FPU15/03376). This work only reflects the view of the authors; the funding agencies are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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Files are currently under embargo but will be publicly accessible after May 7, 2023.

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