How the EU’s new emissions plan could speed the shift towards electric vehicles

Electric trucks and cars have been steadily gaining ground in Europe in recent years, but they will still have to move up a gear over the next decade under new European Commission plans that could completely transform the automotive industry.

The plans are part of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s overall push to raise the EU’s current goal of a 40 per cent emissions cut by 2030 to at least 55 per cent compared with 1990 levels. She announced the new interim target in her annual State of the Union speech to the European Parliament in Brussels on September 16, saying it was needed in response to the climate emergency. “The 2030 target is ambitious, achievable, and beneficial for Europe,” she said.

Zero Emission Vehicles well underway

The new goal will be met through a broad range of measures across the economy, including new carbon dioxide (CO2) targets for the automotive industry. It is also likely to mean a new phase-out date for diesel and petrol cars: a separate Commission analysis says it will reassess, “what point in time internal combustion engines in cars should stop coming to the market.” The Commission paper explains that, “Mobility will still have to be substantially cleaner, with zero emissions vehicles well on their way to replace conventional ones, strong development of public transport and greater use of sustainable transport modes.”

The pressure on transport sectors – road, shipping and aviation – is because their emissions are the largest contributor to Europe’s greenhouse gases with the least progress to date. The transport sector’s low share of renewable energy, just seven per cent, has to rise to around 24 per cent by 2030 under the Commission plans. “A smart combination of vehicle/vessels/aircraft efficiency improvements, fuel mix changes, greater use of sustainable transport modes and multi-modal solutions, digitisation for smart traffic and mobility management, road pricing and other incentives can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time significantly address noise pollution and improve air quality,” the paper says.

Mrs. von der Leyen’s vision says the 55 per cent cut by 2030 is just a staging post in the EU’s ambitious plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In her speech, she notes that the EU’s recently agreed €1.82 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery plan will support projects to help industries decarbonise, and make massive EU investments in electric mobility, notably by building one million EU charging stations.

Supportive policies needed

Carmakers have been cautious. The main automotive industry lobby, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), said it supports the long-term goal of climate neutrality by 2050 but warns it would only be possible with “supportive policies” like a dense network of charging points and re-fuelling stations, coupled with incentive schemes.

Yet the technology is already here. Investments are flowing into electrification and the electric vehicle market is soaring despite the pandemic. A study by the German Center for Automotive Research (CAR) calculated that it would mean lowering the 62g of CO2 per km average for new passenger cars to just 43g by 2030 –  which would mean 67 per cent of new cars would have to be fully electric compared to 53 per cent according to the previous specifications. That is doable.

By chance, Mrs. von der Leyen’s State of the Union address coincided with the start of the European Mobility Week, the Commission’s annual campaign promoting clean and sustainable transport. The event sawthousands of cities organize activities that put zero-emission mobility for all in the spotlight. It is a one day event, but it is helping prime Europeans for a zero-emissions future. And as the latest announcements show, change is coming.