EU nations approve end to combustion engine sales by 2035

Created date

04 07 2022

Environment ministers from the EU’s 27 member states approved to end the sale of vehicles with combustion engines by 2035 in Europe, officials announced early Wednesday (29 June), marking a major victory in the EU’s bid to reduce CO2 emissions to net-zero by 2050.

As of 2035, new vehicles put on the EU market will need to reduce their CO2 emissions by 100%. An intermediate objective of 55% for cars and 50% for vans was agreed for 2030, the Council of the European Union said in a statement posted after a long night of negotiations which ended at 02.10 in the morning.

The measure, first proposed in July 2021, will mean a de facto halt to sales of petrol and diesel cars as well as light commercial vehicles and a complete shift to electric engines in the European Union from 2035.

The plan is intended to help achieve the continent’s climate objectives, in particular, carbon neutrality by 2050.

Campaigners hailed an “historic decision” to end the sale of polluting cars.

“It’s game over for the internal combustion engine in Europe,” said green mobility NGO Transport and Environment (T&E), adding that the agreement “breaks hold of the oil industry over transport”.

It was not a foregone conclusion. Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania had pushed to delay the 2035 target to 2040.

Countries eventually backed a compromise proposed by Germany, the EU’s biggest car market, which kept the 2035 target and asked Brussels to assess in 2026 whether hybrid vehicles or CO2-neutral fuels could comply with the goal.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said that the European Commission would keep an “open mind” but that today, hybrids did not deliver sufficient emissions cuts and alternative fuels were prohibitively expensive.

“We are technology neutral. What we want are zero-emission cars,” he explained.

“At the moment, e-fuels do not seem a realistic solution, but if manufacturers can prove otherwise in the future, we will be open.”

Ferrari amendment

Environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg 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 clause, sometimes referred to as the “Ferrari amendment”, will benefit luxury brands in particular.

These measures must now be negotiated with members of the European Parliament before they are passed into law.

“This is a big challenge for our automotive industry,” acknowledged French Minister of Ecological Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting.

But she said it was a “necessity” in the face of competition from China and the United States, which have bet heavily on electric vehicles seen as the future of the industry.

Last month, the European Parliament also approved the EU’s proposed 2035 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles. The agreement reached among EU member states on Wednesday means the proposal can now be swiftly finalised in the coming months.


EU Parliament passes ban on new petrol, diesel cars by 2035

In the face of strong conservative opposition, the European Parliament on Wednesday (8 June) narrowly voted to back a European Commission proposal for a total ban on new CO2-emitting vehicles by 2035.

Synthetic fuels under the spotlight

Much of the discussion among EU ministers centered around synthetic fuels. The technology, currently under study, consists of producing fuel using low-carbon electricity and combining it with CO2 emitted from industrial activities, in a circular economy approach.

Like the oil industry, the automotive sector has high hopes for these new fuels, which would extend the use of internal combustion engines now threatened by the emergence of completely electric vehicles.

But environmental organisations object to the use of this technology in cars, as it is considered both expensive and energy-consuming. Synthetic-fuelled engines also emit as much nitrogen oxide (NOx) as their fossil fuel equivalents, they say.

Cars are the main mode of transport for Europeans and account for just under 15% of total CO2 emissions in the EU. It is also one of the main gases responsible for global warming.

In response to manufacturers’ concerns about insufficient consumer demand for 100% electric cars, the Commission has recommended a major expansion of charging stations.

“Along the main roads in Europe, there must be charging points every 60 kilometres,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last year.

Manufacturers regularly complain about the lack of such infrastructure, especially in southern and eastern European countries.