The European Council has approved a proposal that sets ambitious emission reduction targets for the heavy-duty transport sector. These targets essentially mandate a gradual transition away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles, making way for zero-emissions trucks and buses fueled by hydrogen or batteries.
However, there is still uncertainty surrounding the use of “grey hydrogen” produced from unabated fossil gas. This development aligns with the European Union’s broader climate goals, seeking to achieve a 55% emissions reduction by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
Aggressive Emission Reduction Targets
The European Council, comprised of ministers from EU national governments, has endorsed a comprehensive plan to drastically cut emissions from heavy-duty vehicles. The proposal outlines the following targets:
- A 45% emissions reduction for new heavy-duty vehicles, including trucks and buses, sold after 2030, compared to 2019 levels.
- A more ambitious 90% reduction target by 2040.
- An interim goal of 65% reduction by 2035.
These targets are subject to a review by the European Commission in 2027. The review will consider the EU’s progress in developing charging and refueling infrastructure for zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs).
Exemptions for Challenging Use Cases
Recognizing the unique challenges posed by certain heavy-duty vehicles, particularly those operating in demanding conditions such as steep mountain terrain or industries like forestry, agriculture, and mining, the legislation provides exemptions. In such cases, up to 10% of carbon emissions in this segment will be allowed to remain by 2040.
Stricter Targets for Urban Buses
The European Council has mandated even stricter targets for urban buses, requiring them to be entirely zero-emissions by 2035. The proposal also includes an interim goal of reaching 85% zero-emissions for urban buses by 2030.
Fleet operators of urban buses will have a choice of three ZEV technologies: battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell electric, or hydrogen internal combustion. Notably, biofuels appear to be excluded from this goal.
However, inter-urban and long-distance buses have been excluded from these stringent targets. This contrasts with the European Commission’s initial plan, which intended to gradually phase in stricter requirements for coaches and long-haul trucks.
Pending Legislation and Impact on EU Emission Reduction Goals
While the European Council’s approval marks significant progress, the proposal must undergo negotiations between the Council, the European Parliament, and the European Commission to become legislation. This regulation, although not directly part of the Fit for 55 package, aims to contribute to the EU’s overarching emissions reduction target of 55% by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Teresa Ribera Rodriguez, Spain’s minister for ecological transition, commented on the development, stating, “With today’s agreement we have reaffirmed our commitment to reach our ambitious climate targets. Lorries, buses, and coaches are an important part of road transportation, affecting the daily lives of millions of citizens. Citizens deserve to live in a greener and healthier environment, and we are now a step closer to this objective. At the same time, we are ensuring the competitiveness of the industry by clarifying the roadmap for new investments.”