Europe is accelerating towards an electric-vehicle future. Picture: REUTERS
Europe is accelerating towards an electric-vehicle future. Picture: REUTERS

The internal combustion engine (ICE) may be destined for extinction in Europe with the EU set to propose stringent new car CO² limits, including the option of banning sales of all new petrol and diesel cars in 2035.

It is part of an ambitious plan to fight climate change which the EU will unveil on Wednesday, setting out policies to make its 27 member states greener this decade. Member states and the European parliament will then negotiate and approve each proposal.

Most EU regulations were designed to meet old, less ambitious climate targets, so they need upgrading, according to Reuters. EU renewable energy targets, the EU carbon market and car emission limits will all get revamped.

The policies will tackle most big sources of planet-warming emissions, including power plants, cars, planes, factories and heating people’s homes. Taken together, they aim to cut the EU’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 and steer it towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Many carmakers have already committed to electrifying their model line-ups, but the process could be speeded up if sales of all new petrol and diesel cars are banned in 2035, one of the options being proposed by the EU.

The world is rapidly moving to electric vehicles (EVs) and a number of countries are set to ban the sale of ICE vehicles soon, including Norway which will allow only zero-emission cars by 2025, and the UK which will ban petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030.

In 2017 Volvo was one of the first carmakers to announce it was going all-electric, and that every new car in its range would have an electric power-train from 2019.

Since then most automakers have followed suit with full or partial electric line ups, including sports car manufacturers such as Porsche, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Ferrari, which have built their reputations on powerful petrol cars with loud roars.

Overseas sales of EVs have soared in recent years and the forecast is for worldwide new-energy vehicle (NEV) sales (including EVs and plug-in hybrids) to exceed those of ICE sales by 2038.

Global sales of NEVs (electrics and plug-in hybrids) in 2020 rose 43% to 3.24m units compared with the year before, despite the overall fall in new-vehicle sales in 2020 due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Electric cars are more expensive than petrol or diesel vehicles, but are set to become more affordable as carmakers extend their ranges to comply with the rules and governments subsidise the cost. The proposals would also oblige countries to install thousands more electric vehicle chargers on major roads.

Europe’s climate targets, if followed globally, would help to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change, which is already unleashing heatwaves, stronger storms and wildfires around the world.

Some EU countries are likely to oppose policies that would raise consumer costs, and some companies have begun lobbying against pollution curbs. Even if the EU plan works, climate change won’t be addressed unless other big emitters take similar action.

The EU produces only 8% of global emissions. China and the US, the world's two biggest emitters, have set net zero emission goals, but have yet to back them up with policies. The EU hopes to blaze a trail that others can follow.

In SA, EV sales have been a trickle, but the country moved closer to the pollution-reducing revolution with a green paper, “The SA Road to Production of Electric Vehicles”, released in May by the department of trade, industry & competition.

The move is a lifeline for the local motor manufacturing industry, which employs 30,000 people and contributes 6.4% to GDP, after it warned of huge job losses and a collapse in exports if it didn’t switch to EV manufacture.

With the world moving to EVs and a number of countries set to ban the sale of ICE vehicles soon, the combustion-engine vehicles produced in SA would run out of export markets as almost two-thirds of production goes overseas.

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