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EU Policy. Trucks and buses to slash CO2 emissions by 90% by 2040

Trucks in traffic on the motorway on the A4 Dresden, near Bautzen, Germany.
Trucks in traffic on the motorway on the A4 Dresden, near Bautzen, Germany. Copyright Robert Michael/(c) dpa-Zentralbild
Copyright Robert Michael/(c) dpa-Zentralbild
By Marta Pacheco
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Heavy-duty fleet manufacturers need to shift their efforts towards electrification.

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EU trucks will need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90% from current levels by 2040, as transport ministers agreed today (May 13) to gradually increase the share of zero-emission vehicles in the heavy-duty fleet across the bloc.

Despite attempts by Italy, Poland and Slovakia to block the law, the new rules on heavy-duty vehicles keep the existing 2025 target currently set at a 15% emissions reduction for heavy lorries weighing over 16 tonnes.

The law further sets that from 2030, new trucks weighing over 7.5 tonnes need to reduce emissions by 45%, going up to 65% from 2035 and finally reaching 90% emissions reduction from 2040. New urban buses will need to reach a fully zero-emissions target by 2035 with an intermediate target of 90% within six years.

Heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for over 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from road transport in the EU, according to official data. In its efforts to clean up road transport, the European Commission proposed a revision of the carbon dioxide emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles in February 2023.

Truck and bus manufacturers will need to invest mainly in electrification, which Brussels-based campaign group Transport & Environment has described as a “brutal transition”, since renewable alternatives like hydrogen and biomethane may not be produced at scale in time and are thus not possible options.

Philip Hunter, automotives analyst at the NGO Carbon Tracker, welcomed the new law but pointed to a recent report highlighting the challenges heavy-duty vehicles’ manufacturers will face, since this sector currently has less than 2% of zero-emissions vehicles within its fleet.

"Manufacturers need to rapidly scale up their production of battery electric heavy duty vehicles and to collaborate with charging infrastructure providers to ensure that fleet operators are supported in adopting zero emission vehicles,” Hunter told Euronews.

Policymakers and EU officials insisted during inter-institutional negotiations between the European Parliament, Commission and EU Council that the new rules tally with competitiveness, but industry representatives have repeatedly called for “incentivising policies” to accelerate transport’s green transition.

Raluca Marian, EU advocacy director at the World Transport Organization (IRU), described the targets achieved as “idealistic” and “disconnected from energy supply possibilities and business realities on the ground” due to the lack of sufficient charging stations across the EU and battery capacity for long-haul distances.

Sigrid de Vries, director general at the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) echoed similar concerns saying manufacturers are “doing their utmost” to decarbonise but rely on enabling conditions that are “largely outside their control”.

For Michael Nimtsch, co-founder and managing director of Trailer Dynamics, a Germany-based manufacturer of heavy commercial vehicles, today’s adopted law is a “milestone” paving the way to climate neutrality and the decarbonisation of heavy goods transportation.

The Commission is due to assess the effectiveness of the new law by 2027 as well as the possibility of developing a common methodology to assess and report the full lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions of new trucks and buses.

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