New regulation on emissions in heavy vehicles in the EU: what changes have been made?
In February 2023, the European Commission proposed to toughen up on emission measures for trucks and buses, establishing stricter reduction targets until 2040 and investment incentives throughout the community.
Heavy vehicles are a big source of greenhouse gas (GHG) generation and a key part of strategies to achieve sustainable and decarbonised mobility. The EU is aware of the challenges present in this area of transport, and has proposed to improve its emission reduction plans, favouring a much faster and more efficient restructuring of the sector, which will help to considerably offset the presence of CO2 and other substances in the atmosphere.
According to the European Commission, trucks, urban buses, and long-distance buses are responsible for more than 6% of total EU emissions and more than 25% of road transport emissions.
This data not only represents an obstacle in the fight against climate change, but also reveals a worrying upward trend when compared to previous years. In fact, the Commission points out that emissions from this type of mobility have not stopped increasing steadily since 2014, with the exception of 2020 due to the Covid-19 crisis. Given this worrying situation, European entities have decided to take action and propose new emission regulations for heavy-duty vehicles that is much more ambitious and mindful of what is at stake in terms of climate issues.
New emission reduction goals
One of the main points that the new regulation on CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles brings to the table is a stricter review of the emission reduction targets established in 2019’s legislation. More realistic plans in the short and long term, in accordance with the European climate goals established in the Fit for 55 plan, in the Paris Agreement and in the most recent REPowerEU plan.
Previously, two time periods were set to meet the reduction goals (2025 and 2030), and now there would be three (2030, 2035, and 2040). But not only the terms have changes, so have the percentages, which are much higher than those set in 2019. For example, if we look at the last date, it would go from a final reduction percentage of 30% for 2030 to 90% for 2040.
New targets (Compared to 2019 levels)
Another new addition promoted by this new regulation is that the reduction goals would not only be for freight transport trucks, as was the case in the previous regulation. Now the range has been extended to smaller trucks, city buses, long-distance buses, and trailers. In this way, different vehicles have been added to the equation and work has been done so that the decarbonisation goals include all agents involved.
Investment in zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure
In order to achieve these ambitious emission reduction percentages, the new regulations establish a package of measures that favour the evolution towards more sustainable heavy mobility. Among them, focus is placed on the implementation of investments aimed at expanding emission-free vehicles.
This would be the case for those with an electric motor or those that work by means of renewable hydrogen, but taking into account that not all available technologies are equally effective in all types of vehicles. For example, the heavy road transport sector is difficult to electrify due to its characteristics and is currently opting for other alternatives such as renewable fuels.
In the case of urban buses, one of the measures proposed is for all new ones acquired from 2030 to be emission-free. A plan designed for the progressive renewal of the fleet and which, if carried out successfully, could bring result in many benefits for the reduction of emissions in cities.
In addition, the other investment pillar must focus on the recharging and refuelling infrastructure that these zero-emission vehicles need to be able to operate properly. That is why the Commission has also proposed the installation of recharging and refuelling points on the main roads of the member countries. Electric recharging points every 60 km, and hydrogen refuelling points every 150 km.
Some of the advantages of this new regulation are:
- Favouring the energy transition. Demand for fossil fuels is reduced and energy efficiency is improved.
- Fighting climate change. Reducing emissions means greater protection of the environment.
- Improved air quality. Improved air quality. Improved air quality and the health of users, especially in cities.
- Increased sustainable vehicles. Accelerating the deployment of this form of mobility and its infrastructures.
- Reduced dependency. Reduced demand for fossil fuels from other countries outside the EU.
- Cost reduction. Both for transport companies and users.
- Support the European industry. Boosting the EU's competitiveness and create jobs.
In order to enjoy all these climate, social, and economic advantages, this new EC proposal still has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Until finally ratified, the 2019 regulation will remain in force.
The role of heavy mobility in the EU’s economy
Betting on renewing the fleet of heavy vehicles also means ensuring the EU’s international position held in this sector as a leader in the production of trucks and buses. Statistics indicate that more than 7% of GDP is comes from the automotive industry and there are many heavy vehicle production centres operating in the EU, with more than 500,000 new heavy vehicles produced annually. A very high competitiveness that, if it is to be maintained over time, must be able to adapt to the new needs for decarbonising mobility and carry out an important conversion process.
The new regulations also seek to channel this trajectory of change and stimulate investment, both in new zero-emission vehicles and the infrastructures they need to be able to operate, with a view to achieving a fair and effective transition for the European automotive industry. It is about advancing towards new production models and away from fossil fuels, adapting to the new challenges of the future, developing, manufacturing, and marketing advanced and sustainable technologies for heavy transport internationally.
But not only is this renewal crucial in the economic sphere. To successfully progress along this path, it is also necessary to reduce dependence on the EU, improve its energy security, and create new green jobs related to the transition to renewable models. And of course, without forgetting the importance of achieving state-of-the-art mobility that adapts to all users’ needs and always keeping in mind the protection of the environment. Having said this, there are many areas directly involved in this conversion process that may benefit greatly in the future when this regulation is approved and begins to be applied successfully.