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Five Ways Europe’s New Climate Proposal Can Transform Electric Transportation

Five Ways Europe’s New Climate Proposal Can Transform Electric Transportation

As Europe aims to eliminate the sales of polluting vehicles by 2035, we must consider how such an ambitious policy can transform electric transportation across the globe.

The summer of 2021 has been decisive for electric transportation. In July, the European Union (EU) made history by proposing that tailpipe emissions from cars and vans must be 100% eliminated by 2035. A month later, the U.S. administration announced its goal to have 50% of all new sales be electric vehicles by 2030, sending a strong signal to the industry, consumers, and the world about the direction of road transport. These political developments were inconceivable a year ago. 

We’ve known for a while that market forces alone will not deliver the transition away from polluting, combustion-powered vehicles at the pace that is required to meet international climate goals. That is part of why the Drive Electric Campaign brings together global partners to accelerate the electrification of all road transportation decades faster than business as usual, through a combination of smart government policies, business leadership, and people-powered coalitions. And that is why the “Fit for 55” package in the European Union, which covers all sectors, matters. The EU had previously enacted carbon dioxide emissions standards which took effect in 2020 and, as a result, is now the fastest-growing market for electric vehicles in the world, surpassing China for the first time. By now requiring emissions from cars and vans fall 55% by 2030 (hence the name of the policy) and 100% by 2035, the EU will reshape its automotive industry and mobility more broadly. While the EU policies could change over the next few months as they receive scrutiny from the European Council and Parliament and additional lobbying from stakeholders, the proposed targets are critical to reduce the emissions in the EU this decade, as it strives to be the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.

Similarly, California has set stricter zero-emission vehicle regulations compared to the rest of the United States and now has the most advanced market for electric vehicles in the U.S. today. The United States will need strong regulations to match or exceed the Administration’s goals to catch up with Europe.

Five Take-aways for Electrifying Transportation Everywhere

As Europe aims to eliminate the sales of polluting vehicles by 2035, it is important to consider how such an ambitious policy can transform electric transportation across the globe. 

1. Pair electric car targets with support for zero-emission public transportation

The Fit for 55 proposal means that the European Commission will support stricter emissions standards for cars and vans by building charging infrastructure and thereby removing one of the key barriers to the wider adoption of electric vehicles. Binding targets have been introduced for charging stations for passenger cars and, for the first time, trucks on road networks and urban areas. Emissions-free transport offers an opportunity for a positive transformation of urban mobility that goes far beyond the switch to electric cars. Europe can also help to turn cities into healthier, emissions-free areas with more mobility options including clean and efficient public transport, and more public space devoted to pedestrians and bicycles.

C40 Cities, a Drive Electric Campaign partner, offers guides for designing and implementing low-emission zones, and Transport & Environment shows how Europe can boost ambition further to zero-emission zones. A city can promote electric mobility by, for example, scaling-up charging infrastructure, while simultaneously encouraging more efficient travel modes by taking steps such as reallocating space currently taken by parked cars to bike lanes. Amsterdam, where I live, is a prime example of these policies in action.

2. Signal that electric vehicles are the future of commercial fleets and trucks

The European Commission’s decision to include light-commercial vehicles, or vans, as part of this climate package will accelerate the shift to zero-emission freight. Electrifying fleets is already underway and increasingly economically attractive for fleet owners.  The total-cost-of-ownership of an electric van is already lower than that of a polluting diesel or gas van as documented by Drive Electric partner EV100, a platform for companies committed to switching to 100% electric transport by 2030. In fact, the demand already exists; what is missing is a wider availability of electric commercial vehicles. One need to look only as far as California which set a global precedent last year with the innovative Advanced Clean Truck rule that ensures that more than half the trucks sold will be zero-emission by 2035. And last month the United Kingdom announced a consultation on a ban on fossil fuel trucks by 2040. The industry is responding – this month, the main European truck manufacturers — Daimler, Traton, and Volvo — announced the creation of a $600 million joint venture to deploy an electric battery-charging network for long-haul trucks and buses in Europe starting in 2022.

3. Push advanced economies to take early action together

Whether the Fit for 55 proposal will have positive impacts beyond the EU will depend on if and how Europe advocates for global policy alignment in key markets and encourages cooperative approaches to end the sales of fossil fuel cars in the developing world. Stepping into this role includes pursuing the alignment of advanced economies, with a focus on those that are lagging. Since 2020, the U.K. and Canada agreed to end the sales of polluting cars by 2035. Now, all eyes are on the U.S. and Japan, the only two G-7 economies that have yet to announce the end of fossil fuel-powered cars. The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow offers the Biden administration an opportunity to align with Europe by committing to 100% sales of zero-emissions cars and vans by 2035 at the latest. The ZEV Community and Route Zero, both Drive Electric partners, provide pathways to accelerating the transformation.

4. Model a fair and inclusive climate and energy transition

Europe will set funds and specific mechanisms to protect vulnerable people who might face negative economic impacts from the transition away from fossil fuel vehicles. This is critical because the transition should be an opportunity to improve economic equality and the need to support the workforce to thrive in an electric vehicle future is at the core of the European climate strategy. The good news is that, done right, the transition will create millions of good paying jobs according to analyses conducted by the European Climate Foundation, University of California, and others.  As Europe moves forward on this path, it will be essential to share lessons with the world on how the transition toward net-zero emissions can support a healthier planet as well as a more just society.

5. Engage developing countries as partners and leaders

It is undeniable that Europe, the U.S., and China will define the technology path for the automotive industry. But it is also crucial to remember that there is value in engaging developing countries as partners, not just technology-takers. After all, everybody will benefit from them leapfrogging past fossil fuel technologies sooner than later, and, most strategically, they could be part of critical value chains as some of them own essential materials for the manufacturing of batteries. As Europe commits to manufacturing sustainable batteries, it could develop win-win partnerships with resource-rich countries to secure better environmental and labor standards across key supply chains. The Global Battery Alliance launched by Drive Electric partner World Economic Forum is a great start, along with efforts by Transport & Environment to secure a strong European battery package that could be a model for others.

Action as the antidote

The push for electric transportation in Europe and the U.S. is happening amid devastating extreme weather around the world and shortly after the release of a devastating U.N. report on climate science that warns that we are running out of time. Rapidly reducing road transportation emissions is one of the most important steps we can take this decade, and the next five years are key. Ensuring that advanced economies reach a tipping point where electric vehicles outcompete polluting vehicles in the market is one of the central aims of the global Drive Electric campaign, and engaging with ambitious developing countries will help accelerate the transition globally. The more we expand the global scope and speed of this transition, the bigger the benefits, not only for the climate, also for the economy, for justice, and for our health.


Dr. Monica Araya is a ClimateWorks Distinguished Fellow and part of the Drive Electric Campaign Steering Committee. She is Special Adviser to the COP26 High Level Champion for Climate Action. Follow her on Twitter @MonicaArayaTica

Published August 25, 2021

Dr. Monica Araya

Electrification Advocate, ClimateWorks Distinguished Fellow

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