A Turning Point for Heavy-Duty Vehicles: Stricter CO2 Emission Targets Set by EU Lawmakers

European Parliament and Council negotiators have reached a pivotal agreement on carbon dioxide (CO2) emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs). This significant move is directed towards mitigating the CO2 emissions in the road transport sector, with new targets set for 2030, 2035, and 2040. The ultimate goal is to attain climate neutrality by 2050, a crucial part of the EU’s 2030 climate ambitions.

The Regulation’s Extent

The scope of the regulation has been expanded to encompass almost all new HDVs with certified CO2 emissions. This includes smaller trucks, urban buses, coaches, and trailers, all subject to emission reduction targets. However, exemptions will apply to certain vehicles used for specific sectors such as mining, forestry, and agriculture, along with vehicles used for emergency services and the armed forces.

The agreement provisionally extends the regulation’s scope to vocational vehicles such as garbage trucks and concrete mixers, effective from 2035. The potential inclusion of smaller lorries (under 5t) in the regulation’s scope is also under consideration by the Commission.

Addressing Retrofitted Vehicles

The provisional agreement also addresses the issue of retrofitted vehicles, i.e., conventional vehicles converted to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). The Commission is tasked with assessing, by 2025, the need to facilitate the market uptake of such HDVs through harmonised rules for their approval.

New CO2 Emission Reduction Targets

The Council and Parliament have retained the targets set by the Commission for 2030 (45%), 2035 (65%), and 2040 (90%), in line with the EU’s climate objectives. These targets will apply to heavy trucks over 7.5t and coaches. They also set the targets for trailers at 7.5% and for semi-trailers at 10%. With the introduction of the term ‘e-trailers’, the regulation accommodates the potential of these trailers to contribute significantly to CO2 emission reduction.

Zero-emission Target for Urban Buses

A 100% zero-emission target by 2035 has been introduced for urban buses, with an intermediate target of 90% set for 2030. However, inter-urban buses have been exempted from this target and will adhere to the general targets for coaches.

Review Clause

The Commission will review the amended regulation’s effectiveness and impact on the targets mentioned above in 2027. The review clause will be made more comprehensive with a series of added provisions, including an evaluation of the possibility of developing a common methodology for the assessment and reporting of the full lifecycle CO2 emissions of new HDVs.

The Road Ahead

The provisional agreement now awaits approval from the member states’ representatives within the Council (Coreper) and the Parliament’s environment committee. Following approval, the text will need to be formally adopted by both institutions before it can be published in the EU’s Official Journal and come into force.

The Backdrop

HDVs contribute to over 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from road transport in the EU. The first CO2 emissions standards for certain HDVs were set in 2019, with targets for 2025 to 2029 and for 2030 onwards. The Commission submitted a proposal for a revision of these standards in February 2023.

Reactions

Rapporteur Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL) said: “The transition towards zero-emission trucks and buses is not only key to meeting our climate targets, but also a crucial driver for cleaner air in our cities. We are providing clarity for one of the major manufacturing industries in Europe and a strong incentive to invest in electrification and hydrogen. We are building on the Commission’s proposal by expanding the scope to vocational vehicles and adapting several targets and flexibilities to catch up with reality, as the transition is moving faster than expected.”

Jens Gieseke, EPP, Vice Chair of the European Parliament’s TRAN Committee said: “Disappointing result in the trilogue: technology openness and recognition of CO2-neutral fuels had no place in negotiations on limit values for heavy commercial vehicles. We would have supported the reduction targets as an EPP fraction, but only on the condition that technologies would not be excluded.

Fedor Unterlohner, freight manager at T&E, said: “The EU is clearly telling truckmakers when almost all their vehicles will need to be zero emissions. European producers now have a clear trajectory to ramp up production of electric and hydrogen rigs and be ready for the challenge of Tesla and Chinese rivals. […] No stakeholder got everything they wanted, but the truth is this is a very balanced deal and positive news. One of Europe’s biggest polluters has a path to go green. Long-term investment certainty has been given to manufacturers and the freight industry. Now let’s start implementing.”

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