Vans are the fastest growing sources of CO2 emitted from transport, and they now account for 13% of road transport emissions in the EU. 

With van sales rising quickly, particularly of heavier models, CO2 emissions from all vans on EU roads grew by 58% since 1990, compared to 20% growth from cars. To meet the European Green Deal’s commitment to climate neutrality, all sales of new vans need to be zero emissions by 2035 at the very latest.

Vans also need to go zero emission to protect air quality. Vans today represent 14% of NOx emissions from vehicles in cities. Based on data from Paris, the average van emits almost twice the nitrogen oxides NOx of the average car. NOx is a particularly harmful air pollutant linked to a number of respiratory problems, including asthma and bronchitis.

But progress towards zero emission vans is slow. The average new van in 2019 emitted 159g of CO2 per kilometre. The comparable figure for 2020 is 154g – only half the rate of annual reductions needed to reach full zero-emission output by 2035.

The current weak EU CO2 standard only brings very low numbers of electric vans on to the market. Even in 2020, only one 2% of the newly-registered vans were electric. This is despite the fact that the business case – or the total cost of ownership – for companies to choose zero emission models is already there, especially for small vans and urban delivery vehicles.

What CO2 targets are currently in place? 

In 2019 EU decision-makers agreed CO2 targets for vans requiring a 15% reduction in average CO2 emissions of new vans by 2025, and a 31% reduction by 2030 compared to 2021. Also agreed were voluntary sales targets for zero emission vans of 15% in 2025 and 30% in 2030. Overshooting this – for example, by selling more electric vans than the minimum – would relax the overall CO2 target for van makers, but there are no penalties for failing to reach them. This set of standards is too little, too late.

Commission to review van CO2 targets in 2021

In mid 2021 the European Commission is expected to propose revised CO2 van targets. 

T&E advocates that all new vans sold in the EU should be zero-emission at the latest by 2035 to meet Europe’s climate neutrality objective by 2050. This is in line with the plans of progressive Member States, and not to fall behind the ambition set already by the UK.

As shown by 2020 data, the current CO2 standards are inadequate to drive the uptake of zero-emission vans. The review should strengthen the CO2 standards by increasing the 2025 emission reduction target to -20%, bring forward the 2030 target to 2027, and set a target of at least -60% for 2030.

The incentive mechanism for zero-emission vehicles needs to be converted into a mandatory ZEV sales target. All new vans must be zero emission at the latest by 2035. And everything can’t be done at the last minute: at least half of all new vans must be electric by 2030. To ensure timely progress in the coming years, sign-post targets are needed: 15% of all new vans should be electric by 2025, 20% by 2027. The addition of a ZEV sales target will ensure van-makers allocate investment into zero-emission vehicles in a timely way, and avoid an undue focus on ICE improvements.

T&E also supports a number of changes to modalities to help enable these targets to be reached. A key aspect must be to replace the perverse incentive of allowing heavier diesel and petrol vans to emit more CO2 with a simple and effective weight categorisation.

The Commission is also urged to consider the incentive of weight allowance for larger e-vans which would only apply in the short term (i.e. to 2030). But incentives must be avoided for plug-in hybrid electric vans (PHEVs), noting the lessons from passenger cars where the average real-world emissions of plug-in hybrids are 3 to 8 times greater than those recorded in lab tests. 

T&E's feedback on the Commission Inception Impact Assessment can be accessed here.

Vans are one of the fastest growing sources of CO2 emissions from transport