EU Parliament votes to ban internal combustion engines

Motor manufacturing
If Parliament and EU states agree on a ban, internal combustion engine cars would be allowed on the streets for another 13 years. (Quelle: IMAGO / Jochen Eckel)

The EU Parliament has set a ban into motion on the sale of internal combustion engine cars from 2035 onward. By a majority vote of 339 to 249 on Wednesday in Strasbourg, the members of Parliament voted in favour of manufacturers only being allowed to manufacture cars and vans that do not emit any climate-damaging greenhouse gases from 2035 onward. Parts of the industry lobby and conservative members of Parliament had insisted in advance for the target to be 90 instead of 100 percent less emissions.

By contrast, environmental organisations welcomed the resolute outcome. Jens Hilgenberg, head of Transport Policy at BUND e.V. (Friends of the Earth Germany), said “today, the European Parliament sent a clear signal about a shift in automobile engines.” The internal combustion engine is an outdated model and that should now be clear to all parties involved. NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) stated “the move to ban internal combustion engine cars by 2035 is a great step forward and a work order at the same time.” The German federal government would now need to take urgent measures in order for the goal to be met.

The vote was on proposals by the EU Commission (German article) to help reduce climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent until 2030 compared with the amount in 1990 – and to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. The plans are part of the targeted climate package "Fit for 55" (German article).

In order for the ban to come into force, EU states and the European Parliament must now come to an agreement in one last step. Many proposals have already been discussed controversially and could not yet be solidified. The states want to define their position by the end of the month.

In Germany, the Greens and SPD (Social Democratic Party) welcomed this step (German article). The FDP (Free Democratic Party), however, is pushing for changes.

No life-sustaining measures

According to a report by the European Environment Agency, transportation was responsible for about a fourth of the total CO2 emissions in the EU in 2019. Road traffic accounted for just under 72 percent of this figure. Transportation is the single area in which greenhouse gas emissions have increased in the past three decades – by 33.5 percent between 1990 and 2019.

The so-called fleet limits for cars and vans are therefore to be reduced to zero according to the will of the Parliament. As no crediting of synthetic fuel sources (aka e-fuels) is planned, this would mean an end for internal combustion engines. In principle, a classic engine could become climate-neutral by operating with these fuels – indeed it would likely be inefficient from an technical standpoint regarding energy. Additionally, there is currently still a lack of manufacturing capacity.

The CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany) representative, Jens Gieseke, nevertheless spoke out in favour of the possibility of these controversial fuels being used for cars and vans – just as did the German Association of the Automotive Industry and parts of the FDP.

The Green representative, Michael Bloss spoke out in opposition: “if we pour e-fuels in citizens’ gas tanks, they would be missing from ships and aeroplane – and we are already unsure where we will obtain fuel for these.”

The climate crisis does not leave any room for internal combustion engines

The German Federal Environment Agency considers a sales ban of new cars with internal combustion engines from 2035 onward a necessity for reaching transportation climate goals. If cars with internal combustion engines are sold on the market after 2035, the 2045 climate neutrality could not be attained said president, Dirk Messner.

Greenpeace reminds (German article) that the German government also wanted to discontinue internal combustion engines by 2035 according to the coalition agreement. Greenpeace traffic expert, Tobias Austrup commented, “to achieve this, [Minister of Transport] Volker Wissing must quickly introduce a new registration tax to accelerate the ramp-up of electromobility.” This is the only way traffic can meet its climate goals and for the German auto industry to prepare for the upcoming transition.

For the Environmental Action Germany (DUH), the implementation is not happening soon enough. They call for an end to internal combustion engines as early as 2030. Federal manager Jürgen Resch explained (German article) on Wednesday: “The escalating climate crisis does not allow us time for millions of new internal combustion cars to end up on the streets of Europe for another 13 years. These cars would then be dependent on climate-damaging fuel for another 15 years or even more.”

The movement for climate protection, Fridays for Future, celebrated the EU Parliament’s decision as a victory for their cause. However, the target year 2035 would already be “10 years too late” for reaching the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as agreed at the UN climate conference of 2015 in Paris as the activists wrote on Twitter (German Tweet).

The Volkswagen Group welcomes the security of long-term planning that comes with the political decision to phase out internal combustion engines. “The transition to electromobility is irreversible,” the manufacturer announced. Mercedes-Benz also expressed their approval of the Parliament’s decision.

The Industrial Union of Metalworkers (Gewerkschaft IG Metall) called for support of affected employees in the automotive industry. “The vote to phase out internal combustion engines is a self-commitment by politicians on all levels,” warned first chairman of IG Metall, Jörg Hofmann. “The framework must be made as fast as possible so that this goal can be reached.” The Union called for a Europe-wide expansion of charging infrastructure and renewable energies.

The failure of emissions trading expansion

The Parliament rejected further proposals for climate protection made by the EU Commission. Among other things, a reform for emissions trading received no approval. The system was actually intended to be extended to industrial buildings and commercial transport. However, conservatives and right-wingers had attempted to deviate from the bills with amendments. As a result, the Social Democrats and Greens rejected the law drafts entirely.

The law has now been referred to the Committee on the Environment. They are to work out a compromise that would have a chance of winning the majority in Parliament.

Emissions trading is at the heart of EU climate politics. It regulates how much should be paid for the emission of climate-damaging gases like CO2. In Germany and other EU states, buildings and transportation are already part of emissions trading.

Foreign manufacturers have been exempt so far

A proposed compensation mechanism for CO2 emissions from foreign manufacturers also failed in the Parliament’s vote. This would have been calculated based on the CO2 emissions during production and the compensation figures would have already be paid in the country of the manufacturer.

The mechanism was intended to ensure a competitive balance between EU manufacturers and importers. Simultaneously, it was meant to motivate other countries to implement equally strict measures for climate protection.

With regard to the rejected proposals, Rasmus Andresen, speaker of the German Greens in the EU Parliament spoke of a “dark day for climate protection.” (dpa / hcz)