EU dodges deadline for polluting trucks in setback for net-zero goal

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*Without more stringent targets, there will be a glut of polluting diesel trucks still on our roads for decades to come

Polluting trucks could continue to be sold in Europe after 2040, according to a new EU plan, which campaigners say would make the bloc’s net-zero climate goal impossible. Green group Transport & Environment (T&E) said the proposed 90% CO2 reduction target for truck makers virtually ensures that diesel freight trucks would still be on the road 10 years later, in 2050. It urged MEPs and Governments to instead set a 2035 zero-emissions deadline.

Fedor Unterlohner, Freight Manager at T&E, said: “The failure to set a deadline for polluting trucks is a craven concession to truck manufacturers. By 2035 virtually all new electric lorries will be cheaper to run than diesels while driving as far and carrying as much. But without a clear EU deadline, diesel trucks will pollute our lungs and the planet for years longer than necessary.”

Truck makers would have to reduce the average CO2 emissions of its new vehicles by only 45% in 2030 (compared to 2019/2020 levels), under the proposal. The EU’s 2030 target lags behind truck manufacturers’ own plans. T&E said lawmakers should mandate a 65% cut in 2030, which is equivalent to the zero-emissions sales goals already announced by Daimler Truck and Volvo Trucks.

The EU would mandate that all new city buses be zero emissions by 2030, under the Commission’s proposal. T&E welcomed the extension of climate targets to this sector but said that an earlier deadline of 2027 was needed to ensure vehicle-makers keep up with the demand from cities for clean buses. In line with trucks, new coaches will need to reduce emissions by 90% in 2040.

Fedor Unterlohner added: “Ambitious EU climate rules are driving the electrification of cars and are badly needed for trucks. Without more stringent targets from 2030, there will be a glut of polluting diesel lorries still on our roads for decades to come. Europe also risks denying investment certainty to battery production and metals processing, driving companies into the arms of the Inflation Reduction Act.”

Trucks powered by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen combustion – where existing engine technology is used – would count as zero-emissions under the EU plan. The climate rules would apply to all heavy-duty vehicles except some special types such as construction trucks, ambulances or fire trucks. These exempt vehicles account for about 10% of heavy-duty vehicles sold in Europe.

The European Parliament and EU Governments will debate the proposal before agreeing the final law later this year. Trucks account for just 2% of the vehicles on the road but are responsible for almost 30% of EU road transport CO2 emissions. Road transport and heavy-duty vehicles are also one of the largest sources of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution, which cause an estimated 350,000 premature deaths per year in the EU.

*Daimler Truck announced that up to 60% of its sales will be zero emissions vehicles in 2030, while Volvo Trucks has pledged 70% by the end of the decade. This translates to at least a -65% CO2 target when considering modest fuel efficiency improvements.