The triple strike against the combustion engine car

Carlos Calvo Ambel — December 17, 2021

A seesaw year that struck a significant blow to oil and the combustion engine.

While in Covid times it often seems as if time is standing still, it’s incredible how much has changed on climate this year. We started the year still reeling from the full on attack launched by the Commission in 2019 on national climate targets. Yet, somehow we ended up with a triple strike against oil and the internal combustion engine (ICE). As Christmas season is approaching, what better time to look back on how the blow to ICE came about. 

Brussels experienced a particularly cold winter. But the overall climate program at T&E was a heated one from the first day. The new year started with the launch of the #EverybodyCounts campaign. In just a few weeks, together with more than 45,000 people, we managed to send a loud and clear signal to the Commission: national climate targets should not be repealed. European countries need to feel the heat, and having national climate targets for the largest emitters, including road transport, is the way to ensure that mitigation measures are supported both in Brussels and their capitals.

Many voices in Brussels and beyond touted a new carbon price for road transport and buildings (ETS2) as THE way to decarbonise transport. Markets will deliver, they said. The prevailing thought was that, if markets deliver, CO2 standards and national targets become superfluous.  T&E’s priority was to ensure that those risks didn’t materialise under any circumstance, which explains our cautious approach throughout 2020 and early 2021.

However, as often happens in politics, circumstances change. By the time the spring started, it became apparent that national targets would be kept in place and the phase-out of combustion engine cars was within reach. Thanks to the pressure exerted by T&E and many others, by talking to policy-makers and putting facts on the table, T&E’s ideas, once deemed far-fetched, were blooming. The summer and July 14th (the day of the EU’s giant climate package) finally came, although the weather continued to be substandard for my Spanish heart. The Commission put forward its landmark Fit for 55 package. It wasn’t perfect, but it included many positives. Among them, a revolutionary phase-out of ICEs and increased ambition for national climate targets. The package also included the new carbon price. 

At T&E we welcomed it. Was it a sudden summer romance following our initial caution? Not at all. T&E and the rest of the environmental movement have, for decades, supported the ‘polluter pays’ principle. If we had achieved the combustion engine phase-out and the strengthening of national climate targets, how could we oppose making fossil fuels more expensive?

The new carbon price for road transport and buildings came together with a new Social Climate Fund (SCF). That means that part of the revenues generated by this new scheme will be used to help the most vulnerable in the energy transition. 

As days got shorter in the autumn, T&E engaged in long conversations with our members and partners, to develop a set of criteria that would guarantee that the carbon price and the social fund are socially fair and environmentally sound.  Without bringing ordinary people along, the green transition will be almost impossible. Policymakers need to ensure that no one is left behind. At T&E’s climate team, led by the capable hands of Sofie Defour, we will hold them accountable.

Seasons pass, but the climate cannot wait. In what’s called the decisive decade for climate change, we can not leave any of our tools in the toolbox. When looking back, we need to remember what was achieved this year. Combustion engines cars have an expiration date in Europe, the fossil fuels they use will become more expensive over time, and national governments will have to take additional measures to tackle the transport climate problem. This was a much-needed triple strike against combustion cars.

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