Why the EU’s new truck emissions targets matter

In political terms, it has come late: just a few weeks before MEPs break up to begin campaigning for the next European Parliament elections. But it is there: European Union negotiators struck a provisional agreement in the early hours on February 19 to set their first-ever carbon dioxide emission standards for trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles. And make no mistake: this matters for the EU, for transport, the environment and energy.

30% from 2030

Under the deal, truck manufacturers will have to cut CO2emissions from new vehicles by 15% from 2025 and by 30% from 2030, compared with 2019 levels. The 2030 target is also subject to a review in 2022.

EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete described the compromise agreed by European Parliament and the EU member state negotiators as “ambitious and balanced,” adding that, “the new targets and incentives will help tackle emissions, as well as bring fuel savings to transport operators and cleaner air for all Europeans.”

The EU already set standards last December for new car and vans (which produce around 15% of the EU’s emissions): new cars sold in 2030 must emit 37.5% less CO2on average compared to 2021 levels, while for new vans it must be 31% lower.

Trucks make up less than 5% of vehicles on the road, but account for 22% of vehicle emissions – which translates to around 6% of the EU’s total CO2emissions. They also transport some two-thirds of freight across the EU.

Charging infrastructure lacking

There are doubts, however, about whether the truck targets can be met. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) warned about the availability of proper charging infrastructure, noting that there are currently no public charging or refuelling stations suitable for electric or hydrogen trucks. “We cannot expect transport operators to suddenly start buying electric or other alternatively-powered trucks if there is no business case for them,” said ACEA Secretary General Erik Jonnaert.

Eric Jonnaert, Sec. Gen. ACEA

But mobility NGO Transport & Environment said this was the moment for European truck makers to start offering affordable, low-carbon trucks. “They now have a unique opportunity to take the lead in the race to produce affordable, reliable zero-emission trucks,” said T&E’s Stef Cornelis. “But they better hurry or they’ll be playing catch-up with the Chinese and the Californians just like European carmakers.”

It is possible that both the truck manufacturers and the environmental campaigners are right. It is true that there is no infrastructure yet, but now is the time to build it. And it has to involve all the players: the manufacturers, the fuel services, and even public authorities.

These targets are ambitious and they set the framework for everyone to work together. If they can cooperate on systems and standards, there is a chance for Europe to set the global pace in low-carbon road transport. And at the same time, do its bit to save the planet.