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Reducing CO2 Emissions from Heavy-duty Vehicles

A technology and alternative fuel option neutral approach to a feasible environmental legislation framework

Reducing CO2 Emissions from Heavy-duty Vehicles
Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport
Jorge Cachinero el


The Global Carbon Project (GCP), established in 2001 by a shared partnership of scientific research bodies, published their recent research which anticipates a “strong” rise of 2.7% in CO2 emissions for this year, in comparison with 2017’s 1.6% rise.

Considering that the three years prior to 2017 saw CO2 emissions relatively flat, scientists are concerned.

So, what’s caused the rise?

Coal use has grown by an estimated 4% in China, with the US also contributing due to extreme weather conditions escalating demand for energy.

Another major factor is oil consumption in the transport sector, from both rich and poor countries, which is seeing an increase in emissions from oil use in cars and lorries.

Focusing specifically on the European Union (EU), and according to the European Commission (EC), lorries, buses and coaches together produce around a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport and around 6% of the EUs total CO2 emissions.

Action is certainly needed to curb these emissions.

One stream of legislative proposals coming from the EC are its targets for average CO2 emissions from new lorries.

It has set proposed targets for:

  • In 2025, for CO2 emissions to be 15% lower than in 2019, and
  • In 2030, for CO2 emissions to be at least 30% lower than in 2019 (to be reviewed in 2022).

The EC is confident that its proposals will contribute to the Paris Agreement, reduce fuel consumption for transport operators and consumers, and maintain technological leadership of EU manufacturers and suppliers.

It predicts that the benefits of these achieved targets will be a reduction of around 54 million tonnes of CO2 between 2020-2030 (equivalent to the total annual emissions of Sweden), with savings at the pump of an estimated €25,000 in the first five years of use for a new lorry bought in 2025, and totalling around €55,000 in the first 5 years of use for a new lorry bought in 2030.

These are bold figures, and as a first step, the CO2 emission standards are proposed for large lorries, which, according to the EC, account for 65% to 70% of all CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.

However, it should be noted that the European Parliament (EP) had proposed raising the 2025 target to 20%, as opposed to the 15% proposed by the EC, and by 2030 and beyond, the benchmark would be at least 35% (subject to 2022 review), as opposed to the EC’s 30%.

Trilogue debates (an informal type of meeting used in the EU’s legislative procedure, involving representatives of the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union -Member State Environment Ministers-, and the European Commission) on CO2 standards for lorries have been taking place throughout January and early February, and in February 19th, the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement setting emission reduction from new trucks at 15% from 2025 and at 30% in 2030 compared to 2019 emission levels.

The text of the Regulation still has to be formally approved by the EP and Council, but once endorsed by both co-legislators in the coming months, the Regulation will be published in the Official Journal of the Union and will enter into force immediately.

An agreement affirming a 30% CO2 reduction will only be feasible if based on a Well-to-Wheel methodology – an assessment of the environmental impact of a given product throughout its lifespan approach, in this case which estimates greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency and industrial costs.

And it’s important that CO2 emissions reduction standards should not force manufacturers to make investment decisions that are not cost-effective.

Linking environmental legislation with the Well-to-Wheel methodology will ensure that all alternative fuel options used and combustion engines are kept as viable options.

Decision-makers should ensure that the CO2 standards for lorries reflect the role of low-carbon fuels that operators are already investing in, such as Liquefied natural gas (LNG) and advanced bio-fuels.

The carbon footprint of the fuel is as important as the efficiency of the vehicles.

Liquid and gaseous synthetic and renewable fuels will be the main decarbonisation driver for commercial vehicles and longer distances.

The good news is that transport operators are committed to greening their operations, but the financial constraints of the sector must be considered when pushing uptake of new technologies and alternative fuels.

Policies to green road transport that are based on a cost-effective approach with legislation aligning not only with technological feasibility, but also with what is commercially viable, seem to be the most reasonable ones of all.

Investment in natural gas refuelling infrastructure and electric charging points, as well as broader product availability, are key drivers to speed up market uptake.

Environmental legislation has to be based on technological and commercial feasibility, must be backed up by an enabling framework and must take a technology neutral approach recognising all alternative fuel options.


Photo: Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport.

With the contribution of Janet Waring, John Kidd, and Jens Hügel.


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