Combustion-engine cars need to be phased out in Europe by 2025

Greenpeace has published studies on how to reduce carbon dioxide from the transport sector. Here are some conclusions from the assessments made by Greenpeace: Despite its climate commitments and the adoption of specific regulations such as CO₂ standards for cars and vans, the EU has failed to cut the transport sector’s emissions so far. While greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from other sources have been slowing or dropping, emissions from transport have continued to climb in the EU, with a 28% increase in 2017 compared to 1990 levels. Transport alone is responsible for 27% of the overall EU GHG emissions in 2017. International aviation, shipping and road transport have been the fastest growing emissions sources in the sector.

A study by Ecologic Institute in Germany for Greenpeace makes the assessment that the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) is one way to significantly reduce emissions from cars, if combined with a transition to a renewable electricity system – thus helping countries to meet their climate and air quality goals. With a view to limiting global warming to 1.5°C, internal-combustion-engine (diesel and petrol) cars need to be phased out in Europe by 2025; hybrid vehicles by 2028. EVs play an important role as an alternative option. The study analyses a range of existing measures that have a direct impact on the increased uptake of electric passenger cars, particularly battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles. The study does consider bans on internal-combustion-engine cars, since this is compatible with the final step in EV support, i.e. a 100% EV quota.

Another study published by Climact and the NewClimate Institute and commissioned by Greenpeace Belgium, offers a roadmap for decision-makers to decarbonise the European transport sector by 2040, powering it with renewable energy, without relying on biofuels. The analysis describes how Europe can swiftly revolutionise the way people and goods move, and deliver a fair EU contribution to limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Greenpeace EU climate campaigner Lorelei Limousin said: “Investing public money in the middle of Covid recovery efforts to keep yesterday’s transport system alive is a travesty. Aviation, shipping and road transport are among Europe’s most polluting industries. Many of the major players have no shame laying off thousands of workers during the Covid crisis while lining their pockets with government bailouts. It is time to transform the way we move, shift to cleaner transport alternatives like trains, significantly reduce emissions, create good jobs, and make mobility equitable, resilient and sustainable for all.”

The report’s modelling shows that 53% of the emissions reductions can be achieved through technology efficiency and cleaner fuels, while the other 47% can be obtained by reducing transport demand and switching to cleaner transport options.

It identifies the measures necessary to decarbonise transport by 2040:

  • End sales of new diesel and petrol vehicles, including hybrids, by 2028 at the latest, and phase out all internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles across Europe.
  • Reduce the light vehicle fleet size by 27% by 2030 and by 47% by 2040, compared to 2015 levels.
  • Increase the occupancy and utilisation rate for all remaining passenger transport by 25% and 20% for light-duty vehicles (LDVs) between 2020 and 2050.
  • Reduce the use of private vehicles from 62% of transport in large urban areas to 42% (with urban centres cutting it down even more significantly) and from 79% to 68% in non-urban areas.
  • Decrease mobility demand by 12% by 2040 compared to pre-Covid levels (excluding aviation).
  • Cut the number of lorries on European roads from 6 to 3.6 million, while doubling the use of inland waterways and rail transport from 29% to 58%.
  • Limit the use of so-called E-fuels, produced with renewable power, to transport modes that do not have an alternative, such as aviation.
  • Assuming sufficient production of renewable-based synthetic aircraft fuel at commercial scale, decrease total passenger kilometres flown by at least 33%. However, such “E-fuels” are far from being available at scale, meaning passenger air travel would very likely need to decrease much further.
  • Cut energy consumption in surface transport, freight and aviation by 63% compared to 2015.

What is next on the European agenda?

  • The European Council and the European Parliament are expected to agree on the next EU budget and the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility by the end of 2020, so implementation can start on 1 January 2021.
  • From 15 October 2020 to 30 April 2021: The European Commission has proposed this period for European governments to submit their national resilience and recovery plans. According to the proposal, countries should include both reforms and investments planned at national level to access the EU funds.
  • By 31 December 2020: Adoption by the European Commission of a comprehensive European strategy for smart and sustainable mobility, currently being drafted by the European Commission, ahead of the “European Year of Rail” in 2021.
  • Also by 31 December 2020: The European Investment Bank, which invested almost €15 billion in roads and airports expansion between 2016 and 2019, will adopt a new climate roadmap.

Immediate policy recommendations from Greenpeace

The upcoming recovery plans and the European Commission’s strategy for smart and sustainable mobility should include a number of regulations and funding decisions, to kick-start the transformation of the transport sector in Europe.

Green and just transition for workers, no money for polluters

  • EU recovery money is public money and EU decision-makers should ensure it does not fund polluters like the aviation industry and carmakers, or conventional car purchases. They should adopt an environmental exclusionary list that defines what activities recovery plans must not subsidise.
  • The bailout of airlines and polluters should be conditional on the respect of regulatory measures to align the EU with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
  • Additional EU and national investment in the reskilling/training of workers employed in fossil fuel heavy transport sectors is necessary.

More and better trains for all

  • To match their wish to see railways play a much greater role in the future of European mobility and achieve this ambitious shift, the European Commission and EU governments must invest significantly in a strengthened network of affordable and accessible new day and night trains across Europe.
  • The EU must improve cross-border trains by removing network bottlenecks and harmonising the railway systems, tickets and timetables while protecting passengers’ rights across borders.

Fewer planes in European skies

  • The European Commission has already planned a review of the kerosene tax exemption as part of the Energy Tax Directive planned in 2021. It must also facilitate a fair implementation of the “polluter pays principle” through flight and fuel taxes to induce a cut in aviation demand.
  • The European Commission and EU countries must ban short-haul flights where there is a cleaner alternative that takes under 6–8 hours, and stop exempting flights from taxes borne by other modes of transport.

The end of vehicles running on fossil fuels

  • The European Commission plans to review the CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans by June 2021. However, it should go further and propose a European ban on diesel and petrol car and van sales, including hybrids, as soon as possible and by 2028 at the latest, with all remaining sales shifting to new lightweight battery-electric vehicles.
  • National governments should take all new conventional vehicles, including hybrids, off the market by 2028 at the latest.

Fewer cars, more walking, cycling and public transport

  • Local authorities and national governments must redesign urban mobility to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport and invest in their development.
  • To help speed up the transition, the European Commission should adopt appropriate measures such as linking access to EU funds to the implementation of mobility plans that are compliant with the Paris climate agreement.
  • The EU should increase funding and investment for interconnected, cleaner mobility solutions that are accessible to everyone.

No new airports or highways

  • National and local governments must cancel highway and airport expansion projects and the EU budget should not encourage their expansion in Europe, in order to avoid further lock-in of carbon-intensive transport modes.
  • Between 2016 and 2019, the European Investment Bank (EIB) invested €14.65 billion in roads and airports expansion. As part of its climate roadmap due by the end of 2020, the EIB should ban any investment in capacity increase for highways or airports.


Compiled by Reinhold Pape

In this issue


The clock is ticking to achieve the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. To be clear right from the start: this goal deserves every effort that mankind can pull off. In the name of realism, this is the goal we must focus on now, given the current level of progress in reducing greenhouse gases. However, damage to marine ecosystems will not be avoided even if we reach this goal1. In fact, damage already occurs at current levels of warming, as evidenced by the bleaching of coral reefs2. This may be an inconvenient truth when our current goal is 1.5°C.

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