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Landmark victory on Europe’s transport decarbonisation


Decarbonising the transport sector is central to tackling the climate crisis, making our air cleaner, and reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels. This is why the EU’s recent decision to begin closing the curtain on the nearly 150-year history of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles is so meaningful.

In June 2022, the European Parliament voted for a 100% phase-out of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2035. This means that by 2035, ICE cars and vans will no longer be produced in Europe, ending an era that lasted over a century. The European Council has now also backed this phaseout date in its agreed position on the file (CO2 standards for light-duty vehicles). These votes represent a historic moment in the transition towards zero-emission road transport in Europe, and one that only a few years ago was thought impossible.

Securing a majority for the 100% phase-out was never a given and, at times, looked to be out of reach. Concerns were raised by the automotive and fossil fuel industry about technology neutrality, jobs and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the ICE supply chains, and political coalitions faced potential derailing over the 100% target. This time, however, arguments that previously held back ambition were overcome in favour of bold climate action.


A coordinated push towards a milestone decision

After thorough research, advocacy, and continuous commitment, key grantees, national partners, and ECF teams collaborated for a final push to secure a 100% phaseout of the combustion engine from 2035. This coordinated work defeated amendments to reduce the emissions reduction target to 90% and introduce crediting for e-fuels that were backed by intense lobbying from the automotive and oil industry sectors. They urged EU Member States to maintain the 100% target, limiting opt-outs and, in addition, encouraged MEPs to vote to require carmakers to cut their average fleet emissions by 15% in 2025 compared to 2021 and by 55% in 2030.

This result represents an overwhelming success by the ECF’s network, who carried out activities ranging from research and advocacy to engagement with key stakeholders in the European transport sector, including consumers, businesses in the electric vehicles supply-chain, local authorities, and trade unions.

Some notable, ECF-funded recent studies that may have swayed policymakers include:

  • An in-depth report and evidence by the European Federation for Transport and Environment that countered mounting claims about an insufficient supply of raw materials to power the shift to e-mobility in Europe. Contradictory to this statement and as indicated in the report, there will be enough supply available in the short term to produce 21 million electric vehicles by 2025, and the supply will be sufficient to switch from gasoline cars faster than what the current market is projecting.
  • New research by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) found that electric cars are unlikely to require battery replacement and are overall the most environmentally sound option. This followed a 2021 study which found that electric cars are already the most financially interesting option for many consumers – and will soon be for all drivers. The study also confirmed that electric cars emit less CO2 than petrol cars, even when taking production into account.
  • Globsec’s study on the future of the Slovak auto manufacturing industry, demonstrates that in a ‘business as usual’ scenario in which the industry fails to adapt, total employment would drop by 4.5% based on 2020 levels. However, if the Slovak car manufacturing sector successfully switches to EVs production, employment would drop by 0.3% and would likely be offset by new EVs production-related jobs. This study was released in a timely manner, during Slovakia’s EU presidency in charge of leading the CO2 standards regulation to final endorsement.


The way forward on transport decarbonization

With this phaseout date, cities will be a step closer to breathing cleaner air, benefiting not only the climate but also the health of future generations. However, action should not wait until 2035 nor be limited to cars and vans. The forthcoming CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles must set equally strong ambition, and a phaseout date no later than 2040, for sales of new ICE trucks, busses, and other large vehicles. The need to limit ICE circulation in European cities should also start now with the maintenance and expansion of low emission zones across Europe.

This particular file (CO2 standards for light duty vehicles) must still pass through “trilogues”. And once adopted, this latest version of the CO2 standards will not be the end of the story as this new regulation will be subject to a mid-term review in 2026.

The ECF and its network of partner organisations will continue to work hard to overcome further challenges, aiming to consolidate positive results in the remaining EU legislation and implementation at a national level to ensure the ambitious targets secured become a living reality for all European citizens.