10 Oct 2016 | Sören Amelang

German states - New cars in EU should be emission-free by 2030

German federal states want to ensure that the sale of new diesel and petrol cars in the European Union ends by 2030, in order to protect the climate. The surprising cross-party initiative in the upper house of parliament (Bundesrat), which experts consider highly ambitious, adds fuel to the simmering debate about the timing of a conventional car phase-out.

In the Bundesrat resolution, Germany’s sixteen states asked the EU Commission to evaluate whether member countries’ existing tax and fee practices effectively promote emission-free mobility. The goal is that “only emission-free cars are registered in the [European] Union by 2030 at the latest.”

The Bundesrat resolution is part of the “European strategy for low-emission mobility”, an initiative the Commission started after the Paris Climate Agreement. Germany ratified the Paris Agreement in late September.

The Bundesrat voted on the resolution on 23 September. It has no immediate legislative effect. The decision passed largely unnoticed in the German media until the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel wrote about it over the weekend.

The resolution passed the Bundesrat with a majority, which means that it was supported by state governments run by Social Democrats and rival Christian Democrats alike.

Germany's shift to renewable energy ­– dubbed the Energiewende – has made significant headway in the power sector, but there has been very slow progress in transport, where CO2 emissions have stayed essentially flat over the past 25 years (For background, read the CLEW dossier The energy transition and Germany’s transport sector.) Experts hope the spread of e-cars will finally cut the sector's high and persistent emissions.

Nearly emission-free mobility by 2050

The Bundesrat resolution also says: “Because not all [industry] sectors can become entirely greenhouse-gas emission-free by 2050, we explicitly support the target to achieve nearly emission-free mobility within the EU by 2050.”

The head of the German car industry association (VDA), Matthias Wissmann, told Süddeutsche Zeitung neither the German government nor the EU commission asked for a ban on conventional engines by 2030. He added that the Bundesrat only addressed the issue of harmonising mobility-related taxes in the EU. "It's absurd to conclude that German states or the Bundesrat demand a ban on the combustion engine in concrete political terms."

Many experts believe emission-free mobility by 2050 is only achievable if transport is powered by renewable electricity. Because of cars’ long life spans, this implies registrations of combustion engine vehicles will have to be phased out much earlier.

State Secretary in the energy ministry, Rainer Baake has repeatedly said this year that he believes Germany must stop registering fossil-fuelled cars by 2030 because the expected serviceable life of a vehicle is around 20 years.  

Electric cars do not emit CO2 locally, but their operation is only climate-neutral if powered by renewable electricity. Germany aims to increase the share of renewables in power consumption from around a third today to 50 percent by 2030.

The Green Party’s executive has proposed for its November party conference that from 2030, no newly registered cars should be diesel or petrol-fuelled. The party argues that a “transport transition” is also in the interest of the car industry, which “only stands a chance if it develops clean and quiet cars that no longer emit CO2.” Both Social Democrats and Conservatives criticised the motion.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche will be a guest speaker at the party conference and will talk about climate and transport policy, to the dismay of some party representatives.

Ambitious deadline

In a commentary on the Bundesrat resolution, Christoph Stockburger argues in Spiegel Online that an official ban on combustion engines would be a stroke of luck for the industry, because it would bring planning security. “If the end of combustion engines becomes law, the carmakers know that investments in alternative engines will definitely pay off.”

Industry experts consider the timing suggested by the Bundesrat as very ambitious. Business consultancy pwc estimates that by 2030, only around a third of all new vehicles in Europe will be fully electric. A majority of new cars will still sport a combustion engine, but most of these will be hybrid vehicles, according to pwc.

So far, the uptake of electric mobility in Germany has been very slow. E-cars’ share of new registrations remains below one percent, despite a buyers’ premium introduced in the spring.

The Norwegian government has discussed banning the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles as early as 2025.

The German carmakers BMW, Daimler and VW all have announced plans this year to accelerate their plans on e-mobility in the past months – see the CLEW factsheets Early e-car starter BMW plans new mobility sprint, Reluctant Daimler plans “radical” push into new mobility world, and Dieselgate forces VW to embrace green mobility. Daimler and VW showcased their first prototypes developed exclusively for electric propulsion at the Paris Car Show.

Please Note: The Clean Energy Wire will publish a dossier on the prospects for German car makers in a renewable mobility future in the coming days.

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