EU funding needs revamp to help accelerate shift to emissions-free trucks

The EU has a golden opportunity to help take the emissions out of road freight – but only if it tailors its funding to accelerate the shift to zero-emission trucks. That is the main recommendation from a new T&E briefing setting out how goods can most quickly be transported in zero-emission trucks on Europe’s roads.

In July, European leaders announced a historic finance deal to help the European economy recover from the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. A major feature of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) is that European industry should build back greener. Freight transport by road significantly contributes to climate and general pollution, accounting for 22% of road transport’s greenhouse gases but just 2% of the vehicles. However, existing financial instruments are unsuited to the needs of road haulage, so T&E has set out where the problems lie and what needs to be done to help hauliers to switch to zero-emission trucks.

Zero-emission battery electric lorries are already in production and the first are coming on the market now, but take-up is likely to be slower than EU climate targets require, especially with 2030 climate targets likely to increase. Some form of public funding will therefore be necessary if enough zero-emission trucks are to come into use to keep the EU’s climate goals on track 

The recommendation suggests member states should set up clear targets within their national RRF plans to help truckmakers ensure 10% of their new lorries are zero-emission by 2025, providing support through access to loans with favourable conditions. In parallel, financial support should be granted to deploy adequate charging infrastructure. 

It also says hauliers should be helped via schemes to buy or lease zero-emission trucks, to make those zero-emission trucks competitive with their diesel equivalent already in the market-development phase. As with electric cars – the costs of buying are very high, even if operating costs are then low. To that extent, T&E’s briefing suggests the European Commission should introduce a voucher scheme, as California did with its Hybrid and zero-emission truck and bus Voucher Incentive Programme (HIVP). This system is easy to read for hauliers and can be used for only one truck. The paper also recommends not to leave small or medium-sized enterprises - representing 99% of haulage companies - out of this transition and provide tailored support to them. 

T&E’s clean freight officer Pauline Fournols said: ‘The decarbonisation of road freight simply won’t happen in the next decade without public support, and the EU instruments that exist are not fit for e-trucks. That means new incentives have to be created, and certain old incentives abandoned, for example those for so-called transition technologies such as gas trucks. Gas is just another fossil fuel. 

‘With the Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans having said we would be “doing a huge disservice” to future generations if we didn’t use the recovery money available now to green Europe’s economy, the political momentum exists to shape the RRF and the EU’s multi-annual budget in a way that speeds up the decarbonisation of Europe’s roadfreight.’