EU laws on HDV emissions cuts advance

Targets for HDVs to go electric or hydrogen have passed another milestone

EU laws on HDV emissions cuts advance
Heavy-duty vehicles account for over 6pc of total EU emissions currently

EU legislation on emissions reduction requirements for heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) have taken a key step forward after the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted for a 45pc cut below 2019 levels in CO₂ emissions for the sector by 2030, increasing to 70pc by 2035 and 90pc by 2040.

Although these targets are not yet law, they are now backed by the European Commission, the EU Council and European Parliament MEPs in the Environment Committee, meaning they are almost certain to be agreed in their current form. 

Both the EU Council and the Environment Committee agreed that the headline targets should be reviewed in 2027.

MEPs agreed with the European Commission that all urban buses should be completely decarbonised by 2030, whereas the EU Council voted for a lower target of an 85pc reduction below 2019 levels for these types of vehicles, meaning the final target agreed for buses will likely be somewhere between these two figures.

The Environment Committee also passed measures to expand the scope of the scheme to include small and medium-sized lorries and vocational vehicles — specialised vehicles designed for specific work purposes and most commonly found in the construction, transportation, and maintenance industries. These expanded segments are often particularly important for urban air quality.

“The transition towards zero-emission trucks and buses is not only key to meeting our climate targets, but also a crucial driver for cleaner air in our cities,” says Bas Eickhout, the Dutch environmentalist MEP charged with guiding the file through the legislative process. 

MEPs also proposed establishing an annual “Zero-Emission HDVs Forum” to accelerate the cost-efficient roll-out of both EV charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

And they limited the definition for “clean vehicles” to battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen internal combustion engines — ruling out liquid and gaseous renewable and synthetic fuels.

Negotiations on the final shape of the law between the European Commission, EU Council and European Parliament will likely take place early next year. 

However, industry associations have raised concerns. If agreed in their current form the targets are unachievable, according to industry body the International Road Transport Union (IRU). 

“If the final rules follow the Council and Environment Committee proposals, the EU would have irresponsibly overlooked feasible measures to cut CO₂ emissions and set out-of-touch targets that transport operators would likely hesitate to take seriously,” says IRU EU advocacy director Raluca Marian.

The IRU’s key concern is that it will not be possible to establish infrastructure for such a high target of zero-emissions vehicles in such a short space of time. 

Industry body the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) agrees that the targets would be hard to achieve, noting that customer demand for electric and hydrogen-powered trucks and buses still lags far behind that for conventional models.

“ACEA’s members have made the investments, and zero-emission vehicles are ready to go, but customers must equally have the confidence to invest,” says Sigrid de Vries, Director General of ACEA.

ACEA calls for better incentive schemes across the EU to encourage customer uptake of zero emissions vehicles. 

“Without enabling conditions in place, manufacturers will struggle to meet targets and face penalties while compliance largely depends on factors outside their direct control,” adds de Vries.

HDVs such as trucks, city buses and long-distance buses, are responsible for more than 25pc of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from road transport in the EU and account for over 6pc of total EU GHG emissions, according to the European Commission. 

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