Killing the internal combustion engine was never going to be easy.
Lawmakers in the European Parliament are voting on Wednesday on whether to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2035.
Revising the legislation on CO2 standards for cars and vans is a key part of the Commission’s Fit for 55 package and aims to put the industry, which accounts for a fifth of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions , on track to meet the EU’s long-term climate goals in 2050. targets.
But industry and MEPs in some car-making countries are pushing for a stay of execution for combustion engines, arguing it is necessary to keep plug-in hybrid models alive.
The fight is over 10 percentage points.
On Wednesday, lawmakers can either vote with the European Commission – and Parliament’s draft report approved by the Environment Committee – which requires all new cars and vans sold from 2035 to be zero-emissions. Or they can back a counter-proposal from the center-right European People’s Party to cut that cut to 90% with no phase-out date.
In a chamber of 705 MPs, officials agree the winning margin is unlikely to exceed 15 votes.
Lobbyists are out in force.
“Going against 2035 is simply not compatible with the climate target we have for Europe,” said Alex Keynes, clean vehicles manager at Transport & Environment, an NGO. “The phasing out of combustion engine cars and vans is a historic opportunity to end our dependence on oil and protect ourselves from despots and climate change.”
Those on the other side of the debate say a complete phase-out will hamper Europe’s biggest industry by mandating electric vehicles.
“Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket when setting new rules for clean cars,” said Jens Gieseke, the German Conservative MEP leading efforts to cut the 2035 mandate to 90% . “We need to reduce emissions while ensuring the economy can handle the social transition.”
He also argued that it was foolish to force automakers to increase electric vehicle sales if the electricity drivers will use to charge the cars’ batteries isn’t clean.
Supporting a total elimination of emissions by 2035 without introducing a new credit system for synthetic fuels or changing the way automakers’ emissions are calculated to enable more than just electric vehicles would mean “limiting consumer choice, stifling innovation and lose our competitive advantage,” said Sigrid de Vries, chief lobbyist at the European Automotive Suppliers Association.
“There is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to achieving climate neutral road transport,” she explained.
Stand in line
On paper, the vote is a sharp split between the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe and the Greens – who support a 2035 end date – against predominantly right-wing parties backing 90%.
In reality, it is much more complicated.
MEPs from the German Free Democrats, for example, who are part of Renew Europe, support 90% even though their party is part of a German government that supports the 2035 phase-out. There are also dissenters within the French delegation who fear job losses at Renault.
The job issue is crucial for the auto industry in central European countries, prompting lawmakers in the Czech Republic and Romania to side with Gieseke.
Polish MEPs from the ruling nationalist coalition also face a stark choice. While the government in Warsaw supports complete elimination by 2035, its own group of European conservatives and reformists supports 90%.
The climate-to-jobs shock dominated Tuesday’s plenary debate.
“Let’s not listen to the fuel industry and car manufacturer lobbyists who keep emailing you, don’t back down,” said French Green MEP Karima Delli. “We will stand with the workers so that the factories are not closed.”
But Gieseke warned that ending the sale of combustion engine cars would put some 500,000 jobs at risk.
The outcome of the automotive CO2 debate will also set the tone for revised emission standards for trucks, which the Commission is expected to publish later this year.
“If we fail on cars, we will obviously fail on trucks,” said Pascal Canfin, the French liberal MEP who chairs the environment committee. “For the whole road transport sector, we would give in on climate neutrality.”
This article has been updated to clarify Sigrid de Vries’ position.