March 4. 2024. 4:53

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Strong CO2 standards will ensure EU leadership in shift to clean trucks

A weak EU CO2 regulation for heavy-duty vehicles would not just hurt the climate but be a missed opportunity to develop European market leadership; major European transporters and shippers are committed to decarbonising their fleets but need legislative clarity, writes Sandra Roling.

Sandra Roling is the Transport Director at Climate Group, a non-profit organisation focused on climate change.

With heatwaves battering fields, rivers receding to record lows and ski slopes remaining green where they should have been snowed under, Europe has started to feel the effects of climate change over recent months.

Being one of the major emitters in the world, Europe must be ambitious in ending its fossil fuel dependence, And it can, with its first opportunity fast approaching.

Road transportation is responsible for 77% of all EU transport emissions, and despite accounting for just 2% of vehicles on European roads, heavy-duty trucks are responsible for over a quarter of road transport emissions.

With that in mind, any climate goal set by the EU also depends on the rapid transition towards zero-emission trucks.

The fact that road transport is one of the largest sources of air pollution, causing 350,000 premature deaths per year in the EU makes the transition all the more urgent.

We know that the impact of air pollution is not spread equally; it mostly affects people who live close to the source, which more often than not are people on lower incomes.

Zero-emission vehicles would not just be good for our climate, but would also improve both health and social equality in our society.

All this makes a rapid transition of Europe’s cars and trucks to zero-emission more urgent than ever.

Through our EV100 initiative, over the past five years, we have been working with some of the biggest companies in Europe, who are using hundreds of thousands of vehicles between them, to accelerate the transition of their fleets to zero-emission cars and vans.

Now, it’s time to switch the heaviest, most polluting vehicles on our roads to zero emission.

Following the rapid evolution of electric technology across the heavy-duty sector, last year saw the launch of EV100+, which builds on the success of EV100 to bring together companies with some of Europe’s biggest heavy-duty fleets.

They are committed to kickstarting the transition to zero-emission large vans and trucks by removing the heaviest, most polluting trucks from their fleets by 2040.

On Tuesday, the European Commission is expected to propose a revision to Regulation (EU) 2019/1242, setting CO2 performance standards for heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs).

Given the above, it is vital that these standards set a clear and ambitious deadline for the phase-out of combustion engines in heavy vans and trucks, mandating that 65% of new trucks will be zero emission by 2030, and all of them by 2035 at the latest.

These targets are ambitious but possible; the technologies to decarbonise trucking and tackle harmful air pollution are already here.

A 2035 zero-emissions target for new freight trucks would push a full market roll-out of these technologies and set the EU on the path to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

Transporters and shippers recognise their climate responsibility and are ready to lead, but they need a clear and ambitious legislative framework to decarbonise their fleet at speed and scale and to allow all actors to move collectively along a set timeline.

In addition, they need an adequate supply of zero-emission vehicles.

Setting a clear path for heavy vans and trucks at EU-level would stimulate European truck manufacturers to evolve and scale up production, rewarding Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that are already driving innovation, and creating a competitive environment to drive costs down for all.

This is also a matter of sound industrial policy. Chinese manufacturers are rapidly growing their global market presence, while the recent Inflation Reduction Act is designed to heavily stimulate domestic electric vehicle manufacturing in the US.

European manufacturers must keep pace to ensure their long-term market competitiveness.

Decarbonising transport is a challenge, requiring multiple stakeholders to move together at speed.

Without clear direction from the EU, including investment in the grid, roll out of charging infrastructure and targeted financial incentives, businesses will not be able to decarbonise their fleet at the speed and scale that are needed.

The CO2 standards regulation is a major opportunity to set a clear timeline and to create investment certainty for all.

With technology development and market uptake having far surpassed expectations already, and a clear demand from fleet owners, there now is a clear case for the EU to be bold and show true leadership in its proposal.