COP26 signals the end of the combustion engine amidst mixed bag for transport

November 26, 2021

Lack of concrete targets undermines global push to clean up transport

After weeks of world leaders flying in and out of Glasgow for COP26, transport day arrived with a headline announcement by states and carmakers to end the production of combustion engine cars.

The global coalition including countries such as the UK, Poland and India as well as carmakers like Ford, Mercedes and Volvo committed to ending the era of fossil-fuel powered vehicles by 2040.

But, T&E warned, with China, the US, Germany and France absent, as well as major carmakers like Volkswagen, it will take more than a non-binding declaration to clean up the largest source of transport pollution on time.

Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at T&E, said: “The car industry’s electrification plans place it ahead of regulators on climate action. But these won’t materialise without actual regulations to end car emissions by 2035 at the latest. It is disappointing that key automotive markets such as the US, China and Germany have not signed up. These countries should be showing the way.”

T&E pointed out that 2040 is also too late to switch cars and vans to zero-emission. “We need 2035 latest to reach zero in 2050,” says Poliscanova. “One in five cars in Europe today arealready equipped with a plug. So, from a technology perspective, faster electrification is feasible. It should therefore be 2035 for all, while leading markets such as the UK and Germany can get to almost 100% by 2030.”


Transport day also brought a raft of new long-term targets for shipping: a coalition of countries led by Denmark and the US (including Japan and Panama) called for zero-emissions shipping by 2050; companies including Amazon, Ikea and Walmart committed to using zero emissions shipping by 2040 (in the coZEV initiative); and around 20 countries committed to setting up green shipping corridors by 2025 (Clydebank Declaration).

Jacob Armstrong, sustainable shipping officer at T&E, said: “The ambition in all these pushes is commendable. It is particularly good to see bottom-up initiatives like the Clydebank Declaration as a recognition that countries must work outside the IMO to keep Paris Agreement goals in reach. But, with all these proposals, the lack of binding targets and concrete measures significantly weakens their worth.”


And in aviation, the UK led an international climate ambition declaration for aviation signed by the UK, France and the US, among others. It recognised that the number of global air passengers and cargo is expected to increase significantly over the next few decades and it called on states to observe the Paris Agreement’s goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C.

But, in relying on the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the signatories make the same mistakes as previous efforts to tackle aviation emissions, said T&E. It pointed in particular towards the ICAO’s ineffective offsetting scheme, which it says is no solution to clean up flying.

Matt Finch, UK policy manager at T&E, said: “The world is crying out for strong action to address global aviation emissions. This is not it. In relying on ICAO, the signatories have failed to take the most essential step to address aviation emissions by including these emissions in their national climate targets. Clean aviation will remain grounded so long as states continue to shirk their individual responsibility to act.”

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