Climate targets force trucks into race to clean up transport

The new EU emission rules for trucks are currently the largest lever to clean up heavy-duty freight transport, but policy carrots and sticks at the national, regional and local level also have an important role to play. The largest EU member Germany, for example, has set itself the target of reducing total transport emissions by around 40 percent within a decade. The government's climate protection programme stipulates that in 2030 one-third of the mileage is to be covered by electric trucks or electricity-based fuels.

The country has recently agreed on a bundle of measures to support this shift. It will spend more than one billion euros to subsidise up to 80 percent of the additional costs for low-emission vehicles compared to diesel trucks in the next three years. The transport ministry also said it will manage the installation of the charging and refuelling infrastructure needed for commercial vehicles with alternative drive systems, and advocate a reform of the country's truck toll system to take account of CO2 emissions.

Over the coming three years, the country wants to test battery electric drives, hydrogen fuel cell drives and catenary systems in preparation for a large-scale roll-out starting from around the end of 2023. Sub-national actors, such as cities, can also be crucial agents for change. In the fight against local air pollution, major cities, such as Paris, could extend their plans for a ban on combustion engine cars to trucks as soon as clean alternatives become available.

"At present, they simply don't have the option because there is no alternative to the diesel truck - the goods simply wouldn't get delivered to the stores. But as soon as that alternative appears, some municipalities could act very aggressively," argues Hoekstra. Last but not least, the rapidly increasing number of company commitments to sharp emission reductions could boost the shift.

For example, German logistics company DHL Group says it wants to reduce all logistics-related emissions to zero by 2050.

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