The European Union (EU) has made significant strides in the fight against climate change by adopting stringent CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles, including trucks and buses. The measures are part of a broader initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote cleaner, more sustainable transport options.
This article examines the key changes, the scope of the regulation, the new targets set, and the next steps for implementation. The discussion will also consider the implications of these changes for the heavy-duty vehicle sector in the EU.
The Council’s Agreement on CO2 Emission Standards
The Council, composed of representatives from EU member states, has agreed on a proposal to revise and strengthen the regulation on CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles. The proposal seeks to reduce CO2 emissions from road transport and establish new targets for 2030, 2035, and 2040.
The agreement is a testament to the EU’s commitment to combating climate change. Additionally, it aims to promote the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, while also fostering innovation and enhancing the competitiveness of the heavy-duty vehicle sector.
“With today’s agreement we have reaffirmed our commitment to reach our ambitious climate targets. Lorries, buses and coaches are an important part of road transportation, affecting the daily lives of millions of citizens. Citizens deserve to live in a greener and healthier environment, and we are now a step closer towards this objective. At the same time, we are ensuring the competitiveness of the industry, by clarifying the roadmap for new investments.” –Teresa Ribera Rodriguez, Spanish acting third vice-president of the government and minister for the ecological transition and the demographic challenge
Key Changes Introduced by the Council
The Council’s text strikes a delicate balance. It maintains the original proposal’s primary goal of mitigating the climate impact of the heavy-duty vehicle sector. At the same time, it allows member states some leeway in implementing the updated regulation, promoting innovation, and bolstering the EU’s competitiveness in the sector.
Expansion of the Regulation’s Scope
The proposal extends the regulation’s scope to encompass almost all new heavy-duty vehicles with certified CO2 emissions. This includes smaller trucks, urban buses, coaches, and trailers. These vehicles will now be subject to emission reduction targets.
However, certain types of vehicles will be exempt from these targets. These include vehicles produced by small-volume manufacturers and vehicles used in specific sectors like mining, forestry, and agriculture. Vehicles used by the armed forces, fire services, or for civil protection, public order, and medical care are also exempted. Vocational vehicles such as garbage trucks are also included in the exemption.
The definition of ‘zero-emission heavy-duty vehicle’ has been amended by the member states to lower the proposed threshold further. This revised definition also covers hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
New Targets for CO2 Emissions
The Council maintained the targets proposed by the Commission, in line with the EU’s climate objectives for 2030 and beyond. In addition to the existing 2025 CO2 emissions reduction target of 15%, the new rules introduce the following targets:
- 45% emissions reduction from 2030 (increased from 30%)
- 65% emissions reduction from 2035
- 90% emissions reduction from 2040
The targets for trailers and semi-trailers have been set at 7.5%.
Zero-Emission Target for Urban Buses
The amendment introduces a 100% zero-emission target for urban buses by 2035, with an intermediate target of 85% by 2030. Inter-urban buses have been exempted from this target by the Council.
The Review Clause
The effectiveness and impact of the amended regulation will be reviewed by the Commission in 2027, a year earlier than initially proposed. This review will consider the progress made in deploying public and private recharging and refuelling infrastructure for alternative fuels for vehicles covered by this regulation.
The Commission will also assess the role of a carbon correction factor (CCF) in the transition towards zero-emission mobility in the heavy-duty vehicle sector during its review.
The Next Steps
The general approach will form the Council’s mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament to finalise the legislation. The result of the negotiations will have to be formally adopted by both the Council and the Parliament.
ACEA Director General, Sigrid de Vries:
“Highly ambitious CO2 targets for truck and bus makers cannot be achieved by manufacturers alone […]aw makers must do more to closely align the ambition levels set for vehicle manufacturers with those for other stakeholders, from infrastructure providers/operators to road transport operators, hauliers and shippers, and public transport operators. “If the private and publicly accessible charging and refilling infrastructure is missing and transport operators cannot use vehicles as flexibly as conventional models, how should customers be convinced to switch to zero-emission vehicles? The least we should expect is a robust monitoring system to ensure that everyone – upstream and downstream – is on the same trajectory At the end of the day, the availability of zero-emission vehicles is only one part of the puzzle. Whether it’s battery-electric, fuel-cell electric, or hydrogen-powered trucks, buses, or coaches, our manufacturers are investing billions into technologies that will power Europe’s green transition for heavy-duty transport. But in a B2B market, there should be a much stronger emphasis on enabling conditions.”
CLEPA Secretary General, Benjamin Krieger:
“To decarbonise logistics, the EU needs affordable, climate-neutral solutions. We appreciate maintaining technology diversity by not setting a phase-out mandate, however, the increase in 2030 and 2035 targets is very challenging. Only four years ago the 2030 target was set, which was already ambitious, and this target should be fixed.”
Fedor Unterlohner, freight manager at T&E:
“The EU has taken an important step towards greener trucking. By supporting the Commission’s targets, governments have set the minimum standard for the sector to decarbonise. We now call on MEPs to increase the 2030 standard. Truckmakers need a clear signal to go all in on zero-emission trucks and compete with Tesla and Chinese rivals. The oil and gas industry has lobbied hard for biofuels and e-fuels to ensure as many fossil powered trucks as possible enter the fleet over the coming decades and keep up demand for fossil fuels. We call on the European Parliament to join the Council in saying no to these Frankenstein fuels which are a desperate attempt by the oil majors to keep combustion engines alive.”
Ralf Diemer, Managing Director of the eFuel Alliance:
“Once again it became clear that the ambitions of the current German Federal Government are neither real climate policy nor European policy. It was a strong sign that our Federal Minister of Transport, Volker Wissing, clearly supports eFuels in road transport and had called for a delegated act for purely eFuel-powered cars. Unfortunately, the Ministry of the Environment in particular failed to support the inclusion of climate-friendly fuels in heavy duty vehicles. The CCF is fundamental to secure the whole logistics sector and therefore the backbone of the European economy. The logistics sector is very diversified and consists mainly of small and medium-sized companies, for which an abrupt change of propulsion and fleet would threaten their existence. We are gambling away important course settings here. Furthermore, significantly less investment in renewable fuels is likely if their use in heavy duty transport is excluded by regulation in the long term.”
The new CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles represent a significant step towards achieving the EU’s climate objectives. By setting ambitious targets and expanding the scope of the regulation, the EU is spearheading efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transport. However, the successful implementation of these measures will require concerted efforts from all stakeholders, including vehicle manufacturers, governments, and consumers.