In the face of strong conservative opposition, the European Parliament on Wednesday (8 June) narrowly voted to back a European Commission proposal for a total ban on new CO2-emitting vehicles by 2035.
The Commission last year unveiled plans to stop the sale of vehicles using internal combustion engines by 2035 as part of a wider climate target to cut emissions by more than half over this decade.
The measure passed by 339 votes to 249 with 24 abstentions at a session in Strasbourg – in practice limiting future sales to emissions-free all-electric models.
The law is not yet final. Wednesday’s vote confirms the parliament’s position for upcoming negotiations with EU countries on the final law.
The vote upholds a key pillar of the EU’s plans to cut net planet-warming emissions 55% by 2030, from 1990 levels – a target that requires faster emissions reductions from industry, energy and transport.
Cars currently account for 12% of all CO2 emissions in the 27-member EU bloc, while transportation overall accounts for around a quarter.
The aim is to speed Europe’s shift to electric vehicles and embolden carmakers to invest heavily in electrification, aided by another EU law that will require countries to install millions of vehicle chargers.
“Purchasing and driving zero-emission cars will become cheaper for consumers,” said Jan Huitema, parliament’s lead negotiator on the policy.
Attempt to weaken proposal fails
Attempts by some lawmakers to weaken the target to a 90% CO2 cut by 2035 were rejected.
The conservative European People’s Party (EPP), the parliament’s biggest group of lawmakers, had sought to push a compromise that would have diluted the proposals and allowed sales of hybrid vehicles to continue.
Their amendment was narrowly defeated while an ambitious attempt by the Greens to bring the measure deadline forward to 2030 also failed.
Conservatives were also unable to push through amendments on having a car’s production-related carbon footprint taken into consideration as well – potentially allowing carmakers credits for synthetic, so-called e-fuels, made with captured carbon dioxide and hydrogen produced from renewable sources.
After the vote, EU environmental committee chair Pascal Canfin triumphantly tweeted: “100 percent zero emission cars in 2035! I strongly welcome the vote on CO2 standards. This position of the European Parliament is an important victory and consistent with our objective of climate neutrality.”
German Green EU legislator Michael Bloss also hailed the vote as a move that would simultaneously protect the climate and jobs in the sector.
Consumer groups, for their part, hailed the vote as “a historic and crucial step to bring the climate and financial benefits of electric cars to Europeans”.
“Ambitious targets to reduce CO2 emissions stimulate the automotive industry to bring more electric cars to showrooms,” said Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the EU consumer organisation.
“Electric driving benefits the climate and people’s wallets. The many people who buy their cars second-hand especially stand to make savings by going electric, as they for instance benefit from lower maintenance and running costs,” she said in a statement.
French EPP lawmaker Agnes Evren was less impressed, however, with a decision she said would “condemn industrial activity and strongly penalise consumers”.
According to Evren, the legislation would prevent the commercialisation of high-performance hybrid vehicles or vehicles using biofuels, whose production she said could potentially prove less expensive and less polluting than electric vehicles.
Carmakers including Ford and Volvo have publicly supported the EU plan to stop combustion engine car sales by 2035, while others, including Volkswagen, aim to stop selling combustion engine cars in Europe by that date.
But emails seen by Reuters show industry groups including German auto association VDA lobbied lawmakers to reject the 2035 target, which they said penalised alternative low-carbon fuels and was too early to commit to, given the uncertain rollout of charging infrastructure.
“Our positions are transparent. It is our mission to develop the best solutions with everyone involved,” a VDA spokesperson said.
Electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles made up 18% of new passenger cars sold in the EU last year, although overall car sales dropped in the year amid semiconductor shortages, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.
[Editing and additional reporting by Frédéric Simon]