EU Parliament Adopts Position to Reduce Air Pollution from Heavy-Duty Vehicles: Details and Reactions

Rapporteur EICKHOUT, Bas (Greens/EFA, NL) at the press conference on CO2 emission performance targets for new heavy-duty vehicles. Photo by Eric VIDAL. © European Union 2023 – Source : EP

The European Union (EU) is stepping up its efforts to combat climate change by introducing stricter measures to limit CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles, including buses, trucks, and trailers. On Tuesday the 21st of November, the European Parliament voted on its negotiating position to introduce new legislation aimed at reducing air pollution from Heavy-Duty Vehicles (HDVs). Below are the details of the Parliament’s position, the reactions to the MEP’s positions, and an outline of the next steps before the new standards become law.

EU Parliament’s Stance on Emission Reduction Targets

The EU Parliament has recently expressed its readiness to commence discussions with EU nations on the implementation of tougher regulations aimed at increasing CO2 emission reduction targets for new heavy-duty vehicles. This move has seen a substantial majority in favour, with 445 votes for the initiative, 152 against, and 30 abstaining.

The parliamentarians are advocating for more aggressive CO2 emissions reduction objectives for medium and heavy trucks, including vocational vehicles like garbage trucks, tippers, or concrete mixers, and buses. This expanded list of vehicles would have CO2 emission reduction targets of 45% for 2030-2034, 65% for 2035-2039, and a significant 90% as of 2040.

The EU Parliament has also concurred with the Commission’s proposal to permit only the registration of new urban buses that emit zero emissions from 2030 onwards. A temporary exemption has been proposed until 2035 for urban buses fuelled by biomethane, but this comes with stringent conditions.

Reactions

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

Christel Schaldemose, the S&D negotiator on the file in the European Parliament’s environment committee, said: “As we navigate the challenges posed by climate change, it is imperative that we take bold and decisive actions. The European Parliament’s adoption of an extended scope, covering vocational vehicles and smaller lorries, coupled with an ambitious emission reduction target for 2040, marks a significant milestone in our efforts to address climate change. This revision provides a clear signal to the European truck industry: Investments in fossil fuel technologies of the past are slated to become stranded assets. Investing in decarbonisation, on the contrary, is the way forward both for our climate and our industrial competitiveness.”

Espen Hague, Vice President of AVERE said: “Electrification is unstoppable, but this nonsense of including so-called carbon neutral fuels may slow us down for a while. Some regions and companies may be lured into wasting time on these inefficient solutions.”

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AVERE: “AVERE regrets the European Parliament’s decision to include a carbon neutral fuels definition in its mandate on the revision of the EU’s CO2 standards for Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDV). Although the hemicycle did not include a carbon correction factor (CCF) and confirmed the emission reduction targets that had already been adopted by the Environment Committee, this result risks jeopardising the EU’s ambition to become a leader in the uptake of zero-emission vehicles technologies.”

Eamonn Mulholland, Associate Researcher at The International Council on Clean Transportation said: “The European Parliament has just voted in favour of adopting Europe’s proposed CO2 standards for trucks and buses – one of the most ambitious standards set worldwide for the heavy-duty sector. […] Over the past months, we spent a lot of time showing how detrimental a CCF would be, so there’s some comfort in knowing this at least has been avoided. We now move to trilogues where Parliament, Council, and the Commission will sit together to find a compromise between their positions. No doubt the issue of CO2 neutral fuels will be the most contentious issue which didn’t appear on the Council or Commission’s proposals, so we’ve got some ways to go before we get to adoption.”

Ralf Diemer, Managing Director of the eFuel Alliance: “Today we had the opportunity to unlock the decarbonisation potential of CO2-neutral fuels in road freight transport and thus protect consumers and freight forwarders from one-sided and inflexible decision-making options. However, the Parliament decided by a narrow majority not to deviate from the ‘all-electric’ approach and thus underline the de facto end of combustion engines in heavy duty vehicles. Without CCF, existing and increasing quantities of CO2-neutral fuels will not be included in the fuel mix.”

Fedor Unterlohner, freight manager at T&E, said: “Biofuels and e-fuels won’t decarbonise heavy-duty vehicles, but they will allow as many diesel trucks as possible to be sold for decades to come. Oil companies have lobbied hard for this loophole to help keep up demand for its fuel. We call on the Council to block this lifeline to the fossil fuel industry. The days of polluting diesel trucks are numbered. MEPs and governments agree that almost all diesel HDV sales should end by 2040. Negotiators should reject the fuels loophole and finalise the law without delay so that the automotive industry can invest with certainty in zero-emission truckmaking.”

John Cooper, Director General of FuelsEurope, stated: “MEPs have made a careful consideration. The decision to recognise the role of renewable fuels for the heavy-duty sector is a strong investment signal for our industry, a step forward towards the creation of value chains and jobs for the scaling up of the production of renewable fuels. It could also create synergies for an accelerated scaling up for sectors such as aviation and maritime, which will benefit economically of this lead market”.

IRU EU Advocacy Director Raluca Marian said, “Despite the many strong industry voices and numerous Members of the European Parliament calling for a sensible decarbonisation path, the Parliament is now officially set to enter trilogue negotiations with idealistic targets, disconnected from energy supply possibilities and business realities on the ground.”

Council Adopts Position on New EU CO2 Emission Standards for Trucks & Buses – Details & Reactions

The Background

On 14 February 2023, the Commission proposed a legislative bill to establish CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles from 2030 onwards. This is aimed at assisting the EU to achieve its goal of climate neutrality by 2050 and to decrease the demand for imported fossil fuels.

Heavy-duty vehicles, such as trucks, city buses, and long-distance buses, contribute to more than 25% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from road transport in the EU, accounting for over 6% of total EU GHG emissions.

In the period leading up to the vote, the carbon correction factor (CCF), a method wherein the proportion of sustainable fuels in Europe’s energy blend would be factored in towards the ultimate CO2 targets that vehicle manufacturers must adhere to, was a subject of significant conjecture.

Advocates contended that the CCF would more accurately depict the fuel composition in Europe, which comprises a fraction of renewable fuels besides fossil fuels. Proponents, such as the eFuel Alliance, also suggested that exclusively measuring tailpipe emissions could leave out opportunities to accelerate the phase out of fossil fuels through the use of advanced biofuels and efuels.

In contrast, critics argued that the inclusion of the CCF would divert the use of efuels and biofuels to the road transportation sector and away from hard to abate sectors such as aviation and maritime transport. Moreover, one study by the ICCT suggested that the proposed mechanism would “artificially reduce the effectiveness of the standards” as the CFF would credit achievements of other EU policies towards the HDV CO2 standards.

See: ASSESSING THE RISKS OF CREDITING ALTERNATIVE FUELS IN EUROPE’S CO2 STANDARDS FOR TRUCKS AND BUSES by Chelsea Baldino, Eamonn Mulholland, Nikita Pavlenko – the ICCT.

Ultimately, MEPs decided against the CCF. However, lawmakers passed a motion by a marginal majority that would pave the way for the creation of a system which includes heavy-duty vehicles operating solely on CO2 neutral fuels in manufacturers’ objectives. This implies that a lorry powered exclusively by a carbon-neutral fuel, such as efuels or certain biodiesels, could be employed by manufacturers to meet their environmental goals.

The Next Steps


The EU Parliament is now prepared to commence talks with EU governments to determine the final form of the legislation. The final law is expected to be introduced in early 2024.

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