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EU lawmakers take historic decision to phase-out combustion engines by 2035, but not everyone is happy

EU governments agreed to end sales of polluting cars and vans by 2035 on Wednesday morning. The deal reached by Environment ministers accelerates the switch to zero-emission vehicles after the European Parliament voted for it earlier this month. However, some Member states wanted to delay the deadline until 2040.

By 2035, the EU ministers decided to introduce a 100 per cent CO2 emissions reduction for all new cars and vans. As an interim target, the Council agreed to raise the targets for reducing emissions to 55 per cent for cars and to 50 per cent for vans, by 2030.

Banning petrol and diesel cars from the roads was first proposed by the European Commission last summer. Lawmakers in the European Parliament voted on the proposal at the beginning of June endorsing a speedy shift to electric vehicles.

However, not every Member states are happy with the new ambitious targets arguing that the 2035 deadline is premature. Polish minister of climate and environment, Anna Moskwa wrote on Twitter after the vote that Poland expressed strong opposition during the EU Council to the proposal as currently, the markets and the public are not ready for this proposal or for a responsible declaration of any date.

Romania’s Minister of Environment Barna Tánczos argued that the reality is that currently, the majority of the population cannot afford to buy an electric car. Therefore, Romania proposed a compromise, to postpone the deadline to phase out combustion engines by 5 years, until 2040. “Through a gradual transition, we will be able to protect the local car industry and related jobs,” the Romanian minister wrote on Facebook.

Additionally, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia and Bulgaria all called for a 90 per cent cut in car CO2 by 2035 and reaching the 100 per cent target by 2040. However, supporters of the ban argued that the 2035 date is crucial because the average lifespan of new cars is 15 years so a later ban would stop the EU from reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Europe’s biggest car manufacturer, Germany was initially reluctant to accept the complete ban of combustion engines by 2035. Finally, Germany backed the proposal with a compromise that the Commission will assess the progress made towards achieving these targets in 2026 and consider the use of alternative technologies such as synthetic fuels or plug-in hybrids.

However, these technologies have been contested by environmental NGOs. Green group Transport & Environment (T&E) has said that cars powered by e-fuels emit significantly more CO2 than battery electric vehicles over their lifecycle and pump out as much toxic NOx emissions as petrol vehicles. Therefore, they called on MEPs to shut down any possibility of a loophole for synthetic fuels, which are also more expensive for drivers and far less efficient use of renewable electricity than direct electrification.

EU Commission Vice President in charge of the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans confirmed that the main goal is to get zero-emission cars on European roads which means technology neutrality although he added that e-fuels do not seem like a realistic solution right now.

EU ministers also approved a five-year extension of the exemption from CO2 obligations granted to so-called “niche” manufacturers, or those producing fewer than 10,000 vehicles per year, until the end of 2035.

The Council also agreed to revise the deployment of an alternative fuels infrastructure (AFIR) to ensure that drivers can recharge their vehicles in all Member states and to put an end to the regulatory incentive mechanism for zero- and low-emission vehicles (ZLEV) as of 2030.

Cars currently account for 12 per cent of all CO2 emissions in the 27-member EU bloc, while transportation overall accounts for around a quarter. In 2021, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the EU increased by 6.3 per cent compared with the previous year.

EU governments will now enter into negotiations with the European Parliament on the final law.

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