Pressure mounts on truck makers, as Commission announces emissions regulation

Commissioners Violeta Bulc and Miguel Arias Cañete will send a letter to ICAO members to urge them to join the mechanism in 2021. [European Commission]

The European Commission promised sweeping changes to its regulation of car and truck pollution in an effort to slash carbon emission levels by 2030.

In a move that will send a chill through the car industry, the executive announced today (20 July) that it will propose the first EU law to regulate how trucks consume fuel and produce harmful carbon emissions.

Auto manufacturers have opposed a binding law to regulate truck efficiency. Such a law already exists in the United States, China and Japan.

Trucks currently make up one-quarter of carbon emissions from all vehicles on the road in Europe.

The Commission’s announcement comes one day after Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition chief, slapped truck manufacturers Daimler, Iveco, Volvo/Renault and DAF with a record-high fine of €2.93 billion for participating in a cartel and coordinating when they introduced new emissions measuring technology.

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Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said the watershed fine showed that truck emissions need regulation.

“We need urgent action because we need to restore the confidence of consumers in our car industry,” Šefčovič told reporters in Brussels.

The Commission is under pressure to meet its goal of securing a 60% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. So far, emission levels have remained roughly the same since the early 2000s as more vehicles are put on roads.

The European car industry association ACEA said that the Commission’s plans targeted auto manufacturers more aggressively than airlines and ships, which compete with trucks for freight shipping deals. Seventy-five percent of freight in Europe is shipped via roads, compared to an 18% share for railways and 7% for ships, according to 2013 figures.

ACEA has lobbied the executive to introduce tax incentives for new, cleaner trucks and promote better-paved roads as alternatives to regulating truck emissions.

“Focusing on new vehicle technology alone will have limited environmental benefits. A more effective approach would seek to address the full fleet and look at how these vehicles are used,” said Erik Jonnaert, secretary general for the Brussels-based lobby group.

Environmental campaigners cheered the European Commission’s decision to regulate truck emissions. NGO Transport & Environment called for the executive to also introduce new road tolls that charge vehicles based on how much fuel they consume.

The Commission is expected to propose a reform of EU road toll law this autumn.

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc also announced that that the executive will introduce incentives to push electric vehicles, and other cars that produce lower levels of carbon emissions.

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The IRU, the global organisation representing the road transport industry, said it fears “the Commission has simply run out of solutions. After five years and billions of euros of European taxpayers’ money spent, the Commission still relies on the failed forced modal shift policy in freight transport based on an over reliance on non-road transport modes and the internalisation of external costs of road to remedy the ills of the European transport system.”

Ana Aguado, the secretary-general of European Distribution System Operators for Smart Grids (EDSO), said “The communication shows a step-up of ambition on low-emission mobility, and it is clear that electro-mobility will play a critical role. Distribution system operators’ electricity networks are crucial facilitators of Europe’s transition towards low-carbon transport. This includes the smart integration of both the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs), as well as of renewables into Europe’s electricity grids.”

Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s expert on climate and energy, said, “The Commission’s proposals are entirely inadequate and urgently need to be fixed if the EU is to meet the commitments it made in Paris. Through newly proposed 'flexibilities,' countries will be able claim carbon credits by planting trees and from dubious accounting of their forest management instead of insulating homes and investing in more sustainable agriculture and transport. The EU cannot continue to claim climate leadership if it cooks the books. “In a world faced with the triple challenge of climate change, population growth and diminishing natural resources there is simply no space for harmful biofuels. The Commission today has missed an opportunity to say this loud and clear.”

UPEI, the voice of Europe’s independent fuel suppliers, said it “welcomes the fact that the strategy recognises the role that all fuels can play in the transition towards low-emission mobility, alongside the phasing in of electro-mobility. UPEI calls however, for equal evaluation of all the alternatives proposed, compared to fossil fuels, on a life-cycle basis to ensure that truly future proof solutions are promoted that can contribute to individual Member States’ economic growth and competitiveness, and collectively to that of the EU as a whole. In this respect, the advantages and disadvantages of the different alternatives proposed are not yet quantified. There is an urgent need for such transparency in the interest of the public as well as in order to facilitate investment decisions.”

John Cooper, FuelsEurope director-general, said, “FuelsEurope welcomes the comprehensive approach taken by the Commission including renewed commitments to technology neutrality and transparency but there is a great deal of work to do in designing the regulatory measures, and this will need care to ensure that the end result meets Europe’s objectives, in a cost-effective manner.”

Jos Dings, the director of the NGO Transport & Environment, said, "While the European Commission has seized the initiative to decarbonise vehicles, the opposite is true for planes and ships despite the importance of European action in these sectors. Double hull tankers, lower-sulphur marine fuels, and carbon pricing for aviation are all policies ‘made in Europe’. Emissions from planes and ships must not be allowed to replace those cut from vehicles."

Trucks, buses and coaches produce about a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport in the EU, and some 5% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions – a greater share than international aviation or shipping, according to the European Commission.

Despite some improvements in fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions from Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDVs) rose by some 36% between 1990 and 2010, mainly due to increasing road freight traffic.

In May 2014, the European Commission set out a strategy to curb CO2 emissions from HDVs over the coming years. It is the EU’s first initiative to tackle such emissions from trucks, buses and coaches.

The Commission said it intends to propose legislation in 2015 which would require CO2 emissions from new HDVs to be certified, reported and monitored.

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