An analysis of the revision of Europe’s heavy-duty CO2 standards

The recent proposal to revise the European Union’s heavy-duty CO2 standards—which sets a 45% reduction target in 2030, 65% in 2035, and 90% in 2040—is one of the most ambitious standards introduced in any major vehicle market for trucks and buses. If adopted, the standards would accelerate zero-emission technology uptake and significantly reduce CO2 emissions from the sector. While the proposal is a significant improvement over the current standards, the projected emission reductions fall short of the levels necessary to comply with Europe’s long-term climate commitments—a 90% reduction across all transport by 2050 relative to 1990. Several key areas within the standards may yet be amended to maximize the CO2 reduction benefits of the regulation.

The proposed standards are projected to reduce cumulative emissions from trucks and buses by 1.8 billion tons of CO2 by 2050, amounting to a 64% reduction in annual emissions by 2050 relative to 1990. Increasing the targets to align with the upper ambition of the impact assessment—that is a 50% target in 2030, 70% in 2035, and 100% in 2040—increases the annual emission reductions to 79% by 2040.

The scope of the standards could also be expanded to include vocational (i.e., not-for-delivery) vehicles, which would increase the coverage of the standards from 83% to 89% of sales. The definition of a zero-emission vehicles has been changed to allow a truck to emit up to 5 gCO2/tkm (roughly 10% of the emission of a standard tractor trailer) which may reduce the cumulative emission reductions from the standards by up to 7%. Proposed amendments to the credit and debt system increase the credit life from 5 to 15 years which would have the biggest impact for bus manufacturers. These manufacturers are electrifying rapidly and are on track to earn a significant number of credits starting in 2025, which will allow them to avoid achieving their 100% zero-emission vehicle share target past the 2030 target year.