Made-in-Brussels laws will make or break the global climate fight

William Todts — December 16, 2021

The transition to electric vehicles is happening. But is it happening fast enough?

I went on a weekend with friends recently. Parked in front of our holiday home were six cars: three electric, one diesel and two hybrids. In 2019, the last (pre-covid) edition of our annual get-away, there hadn’t been a single plug-in vehicle. Perhaps my friends and I aren’t representative, but neither are we alone. 

Almost a million fully electric cars will be sold in Europe in 2021. A record. But one that will be smashed every year from now on. The same goes for clean electricity which in the first half of 2021 accounted for two-thirds of electricity generation.

The sudden appearance of affordable emissions free cars and renewable power is the result of rules made in Brussels. My friends have never heard about the car CO2 standards. And yet these were some of the most important battles our community has ever fought.

And what fights they were! When the EU first proposed emissions trading, CO2 standards and renewable energy targets, big business was up in arms. Didn’t these bureaucrats understand they would “cripple the ability of this industry to compete globally” and make “make small cars ‘prohibitively expensive”? Sounds familiar?

And yet, these struggles pale in comparison to what is at stake right now. The Commission’s Fit For 55 climate plan presented this summer includes the end of the combustion engine in 2035; the end of tax-free aviation fuels and the beginning of hydrogen-based jet fuel for aviation; the start of shipping paying for its pollution; and the introduction of carbon pricing for road transports. This is essentially what needs to happen. 

The Commission’s climate plan offers a stark reminder of its power. Less than a year ago, the idea that Europe would one day require 100% emissions free car sales or require e-kerosene blending seemed far-fetched. Now it looks like it’s gaining unstoppable momentum. 

The past year also reminded me that Brussels is still a place where evidence matters. Things like the BNEF report demonstrating EVs will become affordable to all or our analysis on the competitiveness impacts of including shipping in the ETS made a real difference in the debate. 

Sadly, we also learned that behind all the net zero smokes and mirrors, business lobbyists still play the same games. Last week auto suppliers warned about half a million job losses. This week ACEA accused the European Parliament’s rapporteur’s plan to tighten car CO2 standards to be “out of touch with reality”. The aviation and shipping are all over Brussels warning the new fuel and pricing rules will ruin their global competitiveness. Sounds familiar? 

So nothing is won. The stakes couldn’t be higher though. Expect the world to be watching Europe closely in 2022.

Think for example of the US, China and Japan. If Europe moves aggressively on things like batteries and hydrogen they must follow. It underscores an essential point about climate action in 2022. It is no longer just about environmental protection. It is very much about industrial strategy. 

A huge question is how Europe will manage the social transformation that accompanies the rapid technological transition it seeks. The challenges are real. Carbon pricing will hit lower income people hardest. Heat pumps, solar panels and electric cars are still pricey. Scaling technologies will reduce their cost and create new jobs but the transition will take a few years. How we perform on this will make or break the Green Deal.

As I talked to my friends about charging, solar panels and using our car as a home battery, I realised how mainstream many of our once-crazy ideas had become. The transition has finally started. This should give us all hope. Progress is possible. What we need now is speed and scale. This is what we’re fighting for in 2022.

Related Articles

View All