EU pushes through truck emissions targets with new target for 2040

Trucks and coaches in the EU must cut emissions to near-zero by 2040 under new targets to reduce road pollution, which accounts for a fifth of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Under rules announced Tuesday by the European Commission, heavy vehicles must reduce their emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and by 90 percent by 2040. According to the plans, city buses must be emission-free by 2030.

However, environmentalists have criticized the targets for being neither ambitious enough nor in line with an EU-wide ban on internal combustion engines for cars in 2035, which the European Parliament also approved in a vote on Tuesday.

“This goal would pull the plug on the rapid electrification of trucks. The rise in electric cars will not be repeated [for heavy goods vehicles]”, says Fedor Unterlohner, freight manager at the environmental initiative Transport & Environment.

EU politicians “must demand a 2035 deadline for polluting trucks if the last polluting trucks are to be pulled off the roads in time for the net zero target,” he said.

Frans Timmermans, EU climate commissioner, said the bloc would “eventually” move to a 100% emissions reduction target and defended the less stringent short-term targets.

“At this point in time, we cannot say when all uses of buses and trucks can be emission-free with the technology currently available, especially when it comes to very challenging driving conditions such as very steep mountains and icy conditions,” he said.

The goal of the commission is to bring the bloc closer to its goal Climate neutrality by 2050 with road transport being one of the most polluting sectors in the EU.

Heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for 28 percent of road transport CO2 emissions in the EU, despite representing only 2 percent of vehicles. The lifespan of a truck – 18 years on average – means that despite new targets in 2050, when the EU is due to reach its net-zero target, there could still be CO2-emitting trucks on the road.

Only around 1 percent of trucks do not use an internal combustion engine, and the majority of heavy vehicles run on diesel, which the EU has so far imported mainly from Russia.

Truck manufacturers have a long history of intense lobbying in Brussels, particularly on emission reduction targets. In 2014, the Commission launched an antitrust investigation into a cartel of Europe’s largest truck manufacturers, which had come together to control when new emissions technologies would hit the market.

Seven of Europe’s largest truck manufacturers have already committed to zero sales of emitting vehicles by 2040. The industry also argued that trucks are more difficult to decarbonize than passenger cars because battery power is less suitable than lighter vehicles due to their high load and long range.

For policymakers, the challenge with transport is that overly strict targets could have a negative impact on the supply chain for goods and services, as many transport companies are run by small and medium-sized enterprises that cannot afford to upgrade their vehicles.

But Brussels hopes the new rules will encourage more investment in the sector, according to the proposal.

“The [heavy duty vehicle] CO2 emission standards are prompting manufacturers to increase the range of zero-emission vehicles so that consumers can benefit from more affordable zero-emission vehicle models,” it said.

Rules for more electrical charging infrastructure, which could require charging points every 60 km along main roads, are to be agreed by EU legislators this year.

Manufacturers argue that raising interim targets to reduce emissions will drive investment in decarbonising internal combustion engines at the expense of developing new zero-emission technologies like green hydrogen, made from renewable energy.

“I cannot believe that this can be the Commission’s intention,” said Lars Stenqvist, chief technology officer for the Volvo Group, which makes trucks, buses and construction machinery.

“We believe that we cannot rely on the internal combustion engine to run on fossil-free biofuels and renewable energy until 2040 as our analysis shows that insufficient fuel will be available,” he added.

So-called “professional vehicles”, such as garbage trucks, are exempt under the new regulations. An EU official said this is because they can travel short distances and be easily electrified, putting a heavier burden on the rest of the sector to decarbonise.

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Adam Bradshaw

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