It is just a provisional deal for now, but yesterday the member states of the European Union, the European Parliament, and the European Commission reached an agreement to ban all sales of internal combustion engine cars and vans by 2035. They probably didn't think it through.
News of the breakthrough deal came in very low-key fashion, via a tweet from a spokesperson writing on behalf of the Czech Republic, the country currently holding the rotating presidency position for the European Union.
Under the agreement, the road to zero emissions for all new gas and diesel-powered cars will come in two steps. The first is a required total automotive fleet emissions reduction of 55% by 2030. That is slightly less than the 60% reduction the EU had been lobbying for, but it is still close enough to count as a major victory in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next years after that, automakers will be required to overhaul their new car and van offerings so that none of them emit any CO2 by 2035.
The plan is a significant step for the EU, where currently car and van exhaust is responsible for 12% of all greenhouse gas outputs in the country. Transportation as a whole, which also includes truck, rail, and seagoing vessels as well, accounts for roughly 25% of all CO2 emitted within the European Union.
This comes in addition to existing EU targets mandating that cars emit no more than 95 grams of CO2/km and vans no more than 147 g CO2/km during the period between 2020 and 2024.
The new plan also has individual emissions targets for every year between now and 2035. Under the deal which was approved yesterday at a central level, manufacturers are required to pay a penalty of €95 ($94.8) per gram emitted in excess of the required targets, for every car they register.
The plan has several unusual incentive programs and loop-holes, the first of which allows auto manufacturers some relief on the full 55% for their entire product line if they can demonstrate that 25% of their cars and 17% of their vans are fully compliant with the 55% targets by 2030. This program is intended to encourage moving as quickly as possible to get all manufacturers on board with the ultimate 2035 plan as soon as possible, but may in reality do little to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Similar but less stringent laws in California starting in the 1990s meant that manufacturers built a very limited number of very clean vehicles that almost no one could actually buy. A diesel powered Ford Taurus was built that got over 60 mpg but no dealers stocked them and only a few were sold.
The agreements reached yesterday also include a modification to another special incentive related to the actual emissions produced by manufacturers’ vehicles. The way the plan currently works in 2022 is that for every car they make that emits less than 50 g CO2/km, they get to count those low-emissions vehicles 1.33X for the purposes of calculating overall average emissions and determine overall compliance with the standards. This effectively lowers the average emissions more than they would have been without the multiplier. The current system also has a cap of a maximum allowable reduction in total emissions of 7.5 g/km relative to the real average. This also provides a big loop-hole for manufacturers.
The emissions reductions credits under this program are calculated on an annual basis.
Under the new program, these “super credits” for low- to zero-emissions vehicles continue going forward to 2030, but this time the maximum total average emissions credit has been reduced to just 4 gm/km. Lowering that amount effectively encourage manufacturers to overhaul larger percentages of their fleet, as soon as possible, while still retaining some of the incentives.
After the deal was signed off, EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen praised what had been accomplished.
“Our political commitment to becoming the first climate neutral continent by 2050 is now also a legal one," she said. "The Climate Law sets the EU on a green path for a generation."
Greenpeace EU, which has been lobbying for much tougher auto and van emissions standards earlier, criticized the agreement as too little, too late.
“The EU is taking the scenic route, and that route ends in disaster,” said Lorelei Limousin, that organization’s transport campaigner, about what was just approved.
A European 2035 phase-out of fossil fuel-burning cars is not quick enough: new cars with internal combustion engines should be banned by 2028 at the latest,” she said. “The announcement is a perfect example of where politicians can bask in a feel-good headline that masks the reality of their repeated failures to act on climate. The UN has just confirmed that the climate crisis will spiral out of control unless governments take rapid and decisive action, including a shift to cleaner modes of transport.”
The EU deal did not disclose how it would generate all of the electricity required for the electric vehicles or where the metals for the motors and batteries would come from. I also didn't likely consider how all those millions of devalued fossil-fueled vehicles that are pulled off the road will likely end up on the road in other countries with no emissions controls and poor maintenance where they will pollute even more than they did in the EU.
This EU deal agreed on yesterday must now be voted on by the 27 individual member states before it becomes law.
Perhaps someday someone will figure out that humanity simply has to stop using and wasting so much energy and that trying to convert an existing civilization built around cheap fossil fuels into one that uses clean energy simply isn't feasible. A new low-energy, climate-proof and truly sustainable civilization is required.