Introducing EU-wide CO2 standards for trucks would bring significant savings and place Europe on track to fulfil its Paris climate commitments to cap global warming, a new study has found.
After energy, transport is Europe’s second most carbon-intensive sector, responsible for around a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The study, published by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), found that the enforcement of fuel efficiency standards for trucks could cut overall transport emissions by as much as 10%.
Under the Paris agreement, drawn up by 195 countries in December 2015 at COP21, world leaders agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees.
To reach that goal, the EU has agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The bloc has separately pledged to cut transport emissions by 30% over the same period.
The European Commission plans to publish its transport decarbonisation strategy by 20 July. Although Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said truck CO2 standards would be “essential” to the EU’s climate ambitions, proposals on emissions standards will not be adopted until 2017.
Trucks are seen as a low-hanging fruit in this decarbonisation drive. Heavy-duty vehicles make up only 5% of all vehicles on European roads, but currently account for 25% of carbon emissions from the transport sector.
This share is projected to rise to 45% by 2030 if the EU fails to act on fuel efficiency.
Unlike Japan, China and the US, Europe currently has no CO2 emissions limits for trucks. And while emissions standards for cars have led to significant reductions in fuel consumption, truck fuel efficiency has remained stable for the last two decades.
“The 2030 goal is important for industry,” said Niklas Gustafsson, the senior vice-president and chief sustainability officer at Volvo Group, one of the world’s largest truckmakers. “We want to be around in 2030 and we understand the messages of Paris. We understand it is not business as usual.”
Rachel Muncrief, truck efficiency manager at ICCT, said, “The EU should introduce truck CO2 standards and it should hurry up. Setting a 2020 standard would deliver three times higher carbon savings to the EU’s 2030 goals than a 2025 standard.”
According to the ICCT study, available and emerging technologies could make trucks 27% more efficient by 2025. With targeted regulation to promote the development of fuel-efficiency technology, this gain could be as high as 40% by 2030.
Aside from the environmental benefits of cutting air pollution and carbon emissions, improving the fuel efficiency of Europe’s truck fleet will help keep it competitive.
“CO2 standards for trucks make shipping goods cheaper while cutting emissions and reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” said William Todts, freight director at Transport & Environment (T&E), an environmental campaign group.
Fuelling one truck in the EU costs around €35,000 per year. So a 40% improvement in fuel efficiency could save transporters €14,000 per vehicle, a saving that could ultimately be passed on to consumers through lower prices.
“The cost and benefit to our customers will always be in focus,” said Gustafsson. “But it’s a pity it is taking a long time. The US is excellent at doing things speedily,” he added.
Not only does the US have strict emissions standards, but its regulators also have the power to test vehicles and fine manufacturers if they do not comply.
Margo Oge the former director of the US Environmental Protection Agency, which was responsible for exposing the VW emissions scandal, said the EU’s ability to enforce similar standards is severely hampered by the rules of the single market and the fragmentation of its regulatory authorities.
“I understand that Fiat was certified in Italy and then sold across the EU, but when the Germans found some problems with certain cars there was nothing they could do because it had a valid certificate from an EU member state,” she said.