the challenges to ban fossil fuel cars from 2030

Helene Dyrhauge |

The Swedish minister for climate Isabella Lövin wants to ban fossil fuel cars from 2030. According to several newspapers, the ban should be EU wide and the idea is supported by Norway and the Netherlands. Indeed the Danish newspaper Information[i] reports that the German Bundestag recently adopted a resolution to stop sales of fossil fuel cars by 2030.

An EU wide ban on fossil fuel road vehicles (.i.e. cars, lorries, scooters and motorcycles) will put the EU back on track as a climate leader. Transport has been overlooked by the climate and energy agenda. Importantly, it remains one of the main sources of emissions. Moreover, last year’s Volkswagen scandal demonstrates the length to which car manufacturers have gone to avoid technological innovation to produce low emission cars. However, there are several challenges to banning the sales and use of fossil fuel road vehicles.

The ban on fossil-fuel road vehicles will increase demand for renewable transport fuel, which will put pressure on current energy supply, thereby influencing EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets. According to Eurostat, transport account for 33 per cent of overall energy consumption, and road transport account for 82 per cent of overall transport energy consumption. Furthermore, 94 per cent of all road vehicle rely on fossil fuel and 90 per cent of this is imported. Converting this high volume of fossil fuel into alternative energies by 2030 will be a challenge, especially as electrical and biofuel cars do not have the same reach. In other words, renewable energy cars cannot drive as far as fossil fuel cars and refuelling stations for renewable transport fuels are not readily available over longer distances. According to Eurostat, renewable energy passenger cars represent about 5 per cent of all passenger cars driving on the European roads[ii]. Thus, investment in energy supply and renewable transport fuel is necessary if the EU is to ban fossil fuel road vehicles in 13 years.

The EU transport policy white paper from 2011 aims to curb emissions by 60 per cent (1990 level) by 2050 for the EU to achieve its overall 2050 target of 80-95 per cent reduction for the whole economy, thereby achieving a low carbon economy without curbing mobility [iii]. Transport growth without emissions growth can only be achieved through an increase in the number of renewable fuel vehicles and stronger legislation to reduce emissions from traditional fossil fuel vehicles, something the car manufacturer and certain member states have resisted[iv].

Currently, transport account for around 25-30 per cent of emissions (CO2, GHG and NOx) in the EU and about 70 per cent of this comes from road transport[v]. The Commission’s mid-term report on the implementation of its 2011 Transport white paper recognises the lack of progress towards a decarbonised transport sector. The Commission argues substituting oil is more costly in transport compared to other sectors and “overall GHG emissions from the transport sector in 2013 were higher by 20% compared to 1990”[vi]. Continued transport growth clearly puts pressure on the EU to reform the transport sector as a whole and especially road transport, which represent 72 per cent of all transport in the EU[vii].

Achieving a decarbonised transport sector requires real commitment by member states, who needs to invest in renewable energy supply to ensure the EU achieves its 2030 climate and energy targets. Technological innovation to make renewable fuels better and cars have a longer reach, thereby enabling people to drive further in their electrical cars. Moreover, refuelling stations have to be interoperable so electrical cars can drive out of the city and visit other cities in other EU member states. This requires manufactures to work together to create standardized technologies, which enable vehicles to re-fuel/charge in any EU member state.

Member states need to make renewable fuel road vehicles more attractive to buy and use for example through tax incentives. However, taxes from fossil fuel used by road vehicles are a revenue for national budgets, and to create a decarbonised transport sector, national governments must find alternative sources of revenue. In short, banning the sale and use of fossil fuel road vehicles is complex.

Finally, the introduction of a ban on fossil fuel cars by 2030 requires the support from road vehicle manufacturers and energy producers, who need to deliver in order for the EU to achieve its goals of decarbonising the transport sector. Such an ambitious goal requires cooperation between countries to put pressure on the transport sector as a whole. Thus, neither Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands nor Norway will be able to achieve a decarbonised transport sector by 2030 without the support from the other EU member states. This leaves a central question; will the Swedish climate minister be able to convince her colleagues in the Council, the Commission and the Members of the European Parliament? and how will the industry interest groups respond to the proposal?