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COP26 declaration on zero-emission vehicles counts India, not US

10 November 2021 Cristina Brooks

The UK and 32 other countries signed a COP26 declaration to collaborate and "work towards" selling only cars and vans that are zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2035 for developed and by 2040 for emerging economies, for example highly polluting India.

Developed countries backing the deal agreed to offer emerging markets unspecified amounts of financing and technical assistance to assist the roll-out of emissions-free vehicles.

The UK defines ZEVs as zero GHGs emitted from vehicle tailpipes, for example, on battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The deal would see countries and fleet owners transition to using more of these vechiles.

Seven groups of countries, regions, financial institutions, and companies signed the non-binding declaration, which was launched at the COP26's Transport Day on 10 November.

Governments signing the declaration were divided into three lists: countries, sub-state governments, and "emerging markets and developing" economies including India, responsible for about 7% of global man-made GHG emissions, and Mexico , which is responsible for about 1%. The pair of countries has earned a "highly insufficient" climate policy rating from the academia-led initiative Climate Action Tracker.

The deal builds upon the UK's national plan to phase out sales of gasoline and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and its proposal to sell only ZEVs launched following similar targets set by neighbors such as Norway (2025), Denmark, and Sweden (2030). These Nordic states signed the declaration alongside island nations like New Zealand and Cape Verde.

The signatory lists feature two Asian countries, India and Cambodia, and several African countries (Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic).

As with several other recent declarations, Brazil, Russia, and China were absent, although China last year promised 50% of new car sales would be battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel-cell powered by 2035.

But Greenpeace slammed the COP26-linked deal as "gravely concerning." It noted the absence of the US, Germany, China, and Japan on the list of signatories.

The group observed that the 2040 deadline to start selling only emissions-free vehicles fell a decade after the one advised by the International Energy Agency, which reccomended 60% of global car sales by that time to be battery-electric vehicles.

US group Sierra Club criticized the failure of the US federal government to sign the deal, but noted the pledge still covered 15% of the global car market. The group is backing a coalition lobbying the US to start requiring strict emissions standards that it says will allow it to pledge ZEVs sales by 2035.

Perhaps pre-empting such pressure, on the second day of the COP meeting the US Department of Energy announced funding for five fuel cell vehicle projects and additional research into electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. The $1.2-trillion US infrastructure bill, which passed a key legislative hurdle late last week and will be signed by President Joe Biden next week, offers tens of billions of dollars for ZEV purchases and the charging infrastructure needed to raise consumer comfort levels.

German transport minister Andreas Scheuer spurned the deal due to support for combustion engines with renewable e-fuels like green hydrogen, which the declaration and the UK do not support.

Carmakers GM, Volvo, and Ford agreed to "work towards" 100% ZEV sales in developed country markets, and investors that hold significant shares in such manufacturers said they would put act accordingly on investments.

The declaration was also backed by European utilities with pre-existing plans to offer EV services like Vattenfall, SSE, Iberdrola, Centrica, and England's network operator National Grid.

Several of these, like UK utilities Centrica and SSE, had previously announced plans to trade in their fossil fuel vehicle fleets for EVs.

But the UK's emissions from vans are rising due to increased demand. Brussels-based environmental group Transport & Environment in May criticized the UK's efforts because they came amid a 10% increase in CO2 emissions from vans registered in the EU and the UK over a six year period.

Indian effort comes amid rising demand

India pledged its local governments' support to swap its two-wheeler and three-wheeler auto-rickshaws for electric or zero-emissions alternatives.

Two-wheelers and three-wheelers are the fastest-growing mode of transport in many low and middle-income countries, mostly in Asia, but also in Africa, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

India is the world's third-largest global emitter of GHGs. To meet Paris Agreement aims this month, it has already tightened its pledge to reduce its emissions intensity, increasing it from at least 35% to 45% relative to 2005 levels by 2030. It also pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2070.

Indian vehicle emissions are a particular concern. The transport policies of the world's second most populous nation have a major impact on GHGs, as its small vehicle fleet relative to its large population is expected to grow rapidly, according to Climate Action Tracker. For example, it recently saw a doubling of sales of internal combustion emissions vehicles.

Electrification of passenger and freight transportation in India could reduce emissions from the transport sector by 570 million metric tons CO2 equivalent annually, found Climate Action Tracker.

UK zero-emission pledges

While truck pledges were absent from the global declaration, the UK on the same day pledged to require zero-emissions technologies for new Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs).

It laid down deadlines for different kinds of HGVs; one for new HGVs weighing under 26 tonnes of 2035, and one for other types of HGVs of 2040.

The UK initally clarified how it would begin to start selling only new ZEV cars and vans nationwide by 2035 in a paper in July. In the paper, it noted the three technology options for zero-emission HGVs are pure battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and ERS (catenary) enabled HGVs, which use overhead wiring.

It found the advantages of ZEV adoption were not just climate benefits, but also health- and cost-related. "New zero-emission vehicles utilizing electric or hydrogen fuel cell technologies are quieter since they don't have a combustion engine, more energy-efficient due to their transmission and are cheaper to run. Additionally, switching to zero-emission HGVs will reduce exhaust emissions of air pollutants like Nitrogen Dioxide and Particulate Matter," it said.

The HGV pledge followed the Prime Minister's 2020 10 Point Plan, in which he promised the UK would stop selling new petrol and diesel-fueled cars and vans domestically while praising the UK's EV manufacturing chops.

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