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‘I’m not convinced,’ Timmermans told T&E’s 30th anniversary online event. ‘I’m not sure that is the best way of decarbonising road transport,’ he added. ‘I think our proven track record of higher and higher demands in terms of emissions [reductions] is much more efficient and effective.’
The Commission’s next steps towards cleaning up road transport are likely to be an increase in CO2 standards for vehicles. ‘I think we have to increase our ambitions in terms of emissions regulation,’ Mr Timmermans said. ‘That will already push manufacturers towards more zero-emissions vehicles.’
Under existing legislation, the average new car sold in the EU from January must emit no more than 95g per kilometre of CO2, with stricter limits due for 2025 and 2030. These stricter limits are generally only attainable through cars that do not run on petrol or diesel, with battery electric vehicles likely to be the dominant technology on Europe’s roads.
Despite describing the ETS as ‘a proven system that needs to be expanded’ to sectors like shipping, Timmermans said he was not convinced emissions trading was the best way to decarbonise road transport. He said stricter CO2 standards for vehicles were a way of speeding up the widespread use of zero-emission vehicles.
‘We need to increase ambition,’ he said, ‘we need to create the right infrastructure, and we need uniformity across Europe so technology to help us to zero-emission mobility will be viable across the continent.’
An expert study published in July found that requiring oil companies to buy EU pollution permits for diesel and petrol sold to motorists would not lead to significant emissions reductions. Adding cars and trucks would shift the burden of emission reductions from the road transport sector to heavy industry and power, but would have virtually no environmental gain on the road, the Cambridge Econometrics report for T&E said.
Speaking at the same conference, Thomas Steg of the German carmaker Volkswagen implied that emissions trading was viable, especially if the trading price of carbon settled at around €60 per tonne. However, Steg also talked about the phasing out of petrol and diesel by 2050, which is not considered ambitious compared with the aspirations of governments and the urgency of fighting climate change.
The Commission vice-president also said the EU needed to help with decarbonising public transport. ‘We need to take a long hard look at how cities become sustainable,’ he said. ‘We must be careful not to destroy public transport because of demand dropping during the Covid-19 pandemic – we need to help cities go from emissions public transport to zero-emissions public transport.’