Focus on better fuels: How the EU should approach CO2 standards for cars and vans


To achieve the ambitious decarbonisation goals of the European Green Deal, the EU needs to deploy a wide range of sustainable solutions. Just like there’s no single type of automobile, there’s no single miracle technology for reducing automobile emissions.

But much of the current policy at EU level on the future of cars and light-duty vehicles ignores important tools Europe can rely on to reduce transport emissions, and instead focuses on one driver of decarbonisation that will not realise its full potential for many years to come: electromobility. While it’s true that sustainable electromobility will continue to grow in importance in meeting climate and energy targets, there are other solutions that can make an important and immediate impact.

These include renewable fuels such as European ethanol, which have a proven record of emissions savings and should be allowed to contribute and compete on a fair basis. Including the impact of renewable and low-carbon fuels in the revision of the CO2 standards is crucial for the shift towards carbon neutral mobility: fuels decarbonisation should be among the priorities of the Commission.

Europeans still buy and drive petrol cars

According to the European automobile manufacturers association ACEA, only about 0.2% of the 243 million passenger cars on the road now are so-called “zero-emission vehicles” (ZEV). While sales of electric vehicles are growing, they remain a small percentage of new car purchases in Europe; in fact, the nearly 50% of new cars sold today in Europe have petrol engines.

Moreover, the existing fleet is being replaced slowly, with the average age of EU cars at almost 11 years. In every scenario conceived in research for its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the European Commission projects a market share of less than 15% for ZEV in 2030.

Better fuels, better results

It's clear we need more. Renewable fuels – already usable at scale in existing infrastructure– can cut transport GHG emissions and curb overreliance on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, despite their potential, renewable fuels are operating in an unfavourable and unstable framework. The CO2 standards should be designed to incentivise not just EVs but also powertrains running on low Well-To-Tank emissions and/or high biogenic content energy carriers.

Taking into account their contribution into the CO2 standards via a crediting system could give the right incentive for the uptake of better fuels. The CO2 standards could provide the critical push for renewable and low-carbon energy in transport, bringing together everyone from fuel suppliers to car manufacturers. It would also help move towards the Well-To-Wheel approach (in place in RED and FQD) which makes the distinction between fossil and biogenic CO2.

In the meantime, the EU must embrace a diverse portfolio of already available and affordable low-carbon solutions. All fuels/energy carriers that displace fossil fuels should be allowed and encouraged in all transport modes, not just a select few. All solutions are required to kickstart the decarbonisation of light duty vehicles, especially those that have limited potential in the aviation and maritime sectors, such as renewable ethanol.

Read our statement with a group of 39 associations and companies representing the automotive, fuel and energy industries calling on the European Commission to include sustainable renewable fuels in EU mobility legislation.

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