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COP26: Major automakers, governments fail to sign 2040 zero-emissions transport pledge


'Work towards' zero emission sales by 2035/2040

33 states, 11 carmakers signatories

Step change in infrastructure needed

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  • Diana Kinch    Henry Edwardes-Evans and James Burgess
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  • Kshitiz Goliya
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  • COP26 Energy Transition Environment and Sustainability

A pledge at the UN's Climate Change Conference in Glasgow to accelerate the transition to zero emission cars and vans, greeted as a "landmark global agreement" by the UK's COP26 presidency, has fallen short of expectation with China, the US and Germany and a clutch of major automakers all failing to sign the accord.

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The declaration, presented during the event's "Transport Day", commits to working toward 100% zero emission vehicle sales by 2035 at the latest in leading markets, and by 2040 globally.

Designed to "rapidly" accelerate the transition to zero emission vehicles to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the accord has been signed by national governments, states, regions, cities, vehicle manufacturers, businesses, investors and civil society.

Backed by just two financial institutions -- Aviva and NatWest -- the declaration pledges to "support efforts to achieve the road transport breakthrough announced by world leaders, which aims to make zero emission vehicles the new normal by making them accessible, affordable and sustainable in all regions by 2030... a global, equitable and just transition so that no country or community is left behind," noting that it should improve air quality, boost energy security and help balance electricity grids as the transition to clean power is made.

However, greater levels of investment into research, manufacturing, supply chains, infrastructure and -- where applicable -- development assistance, will all be required to make an accelerated global transition a reality, the declaration warned, acknowledging the existence of strategic, political and technical barriers which must be overcome to make the transition "faster, lower cost, and easier for everyone."

"We recognise that alongside the shift to zero emission vehicles, a sustainable future for road transport will require wider system transformation, including support for active travel, public and shared transport, as well as addressing the full value chain impacts from vehicle production, use and disposal," it said.

33 governments signed

While described as a global pledge, the declaration has been signed by no more than 33 of the world's governments: namely Austria, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Ghana, India, Kenya, Secretariat of Economy, Mexico, Morocco, Paraguay, Rwanda, Turkey and Uruguay.

A similar number of cities, states and regional governments have signed the pledge, including some in China, the US and Latin America, as well as 27 vehicle fleet owners or operators and 13 investors with significant shareholdings in automotive manufacturers.

Eleven automakers signed the pledge: Avera Electric Vehicles, BYD Auto, Etrio Automobiles Private Limited, Ford Motor Company, Gayam Motor Works, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, MOBI, Quantum Motors and Volvo Cars. This leaves some other industry majors, including BMW, Honda, Daimler, Toyota, Volkswagen, as well as China's SAIC Motor, noticeably off the list.

No legal requirements

Belgium-based group Transport & Environment, or T&E, said in a Nov. 10 statement that the COP26 pledge by governments to sell only zero-emissions cars and vans from 2035 needs to be backed up with actual targets set down in law if it is to have an impact.

"A 'progressive coalition' at the COP26 climate conference committed to end the sale of polluting cars and vans by 2035 in leading markets and by 2040 elsewhere. But, with China, the US, Germany and France absent, it will take more than a non-binding declaration to clean up the largest source of transport pollution," T&E commented.

"The car industry's electrification plans place it ahead of regulators on climate action. But these won't materialise without actual targets to end car emissions by 2035 at the latest. The US and Europe, especially Germany and France, need to lead," T&E's Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility said.

Charging infrastructure lagging

A step change is also required in charging infrastructure to ensure "range anxiety" does not affect growing demand for electric vehicles, S&P Global Platts Analytics said Nov. 10.

"Consumers are embracing electric vehicles but still have reservations, with the lack of charging infrastructure chief among them" Anne Robba, Manager, Future Energy Signposts, S&P Global Platts Analytics said in a report. "We project the US will have 21 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 and these will require between 1.4 to 2.1 million charging ports in the next eight years. Today, there are only 120,000 ports currently available. This outlines the scale of infrastructure investment needed in both the US and Western Europe. In comparison, China has 1.04 million charging ports, which account for the vast majority of the 1.5 to 2 million public EV charging ports available today worldwide."

Rising metals prices for use in EV batteries -- with lithium prices at an all-time high -- were also seen as a factor which could slow down EV uptake.

Lithium cost up 50% since June

UK to end diesel truck sales

The UK's announcement in a separate pledge Nov. 10 that it will end the sale of all new diesel trucks between 2035 and 2040, was described by T&E as a "world leading policy" which "places the UK at the head of the queue for ending the use of fossil fuels in vehicles by 2050."

The UK will become the first country in the world to commit to phasing out new, non-zero emission heavy goods vehicles weighing 26 tonnes and under by 2035, with all new HGVs sold in the UK to be zero emission by 2040, according to a statement from the UK Department of Transport. "This, combined with the UK's 2030 phase out for petrol and diesel cars and vans, represents a world-leading pledge to end the sale of all polluting road vehicles within the next 2 decades," it said.