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New alliance for combustion engine phaseout

November 10, 2021

Around 30 countries, cities and car manufacturers are planning a total shift to emission-free vehicles by 2040. But a number of major automaking countries — including China, the US and Germany — are not on board.

Car emissions seen in headlights
Internal combustion engines are responsible for many environmental pollutantsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Murat

Climate-friendly mobility was one of the priorities of the UN climate conference in Glasgow according to this year's COP host, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The participants should focus on "coal, cars, cash and trees," he said.  

Statements have already been made about coal and trees. Today cars are under the microscope as 24 countries, six major auto manufacturers as well as some cities and investors set the tone at a day dedicated to transportation.

"Together, we will work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets," said their statement published in Glasgow. They want to "support efforts to achieve the road transport breakthrough." 

Fighting for the future 

Among the automakers who signed on are Daimler's Mercedes-Benz, the Swedish manufacturer Volvo, China's BYD, Jaguar Land Rover, a unit of India's Tata Motors and the American automakers Ford and General Motors (GM). 

In addition to the UK, EU countries like Denmark, Poland, Austria and Croatia as well as a number of other industrialized states including Israel and Canada joined the agreement. Emerging and developing countries such as Turkey, Paraguay, Kenya and Rwanda are also taking part.  

The US state of California and cities like Barcelona, ​​Florence and New York are also involved. Additionally, companies that invest in the auto industry or have their own large vehicle fleets, such as utility company E.ON, Ikea and Unilever, signed the declaration.

Jennifer Eison, campaign manager for US NGO Action for the Climate Emergency welcomed the declaration.

"I think it's great to hear that there are people who are committing to finally ending their use of fossil fuels," she told DW. "We've known for a very long time that fossil fuels are driving climate change. And so to be able to have so many countries to commit to that, I think is bold and the type of action that we need right now."

Eison added that it was disappointing that the US had not signed up to the pledge.


Traffic and a cyclist in Bochum, Germany
Reducing the number of vehicles in Germany powered by combustion engines will be difficult without more commitment Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Tack

Germany puts on the brakes 

Other major transport markets that have not joined the initiative include China and Germany.

Responding to the declaration, Martin Kaiser, executive director of Greenpeace Germany, described the absence of the leading economies and carmakers as "gravely concerning."

"To stop new fossil fuels, we need to cut off our dependency," he said. “That means moving on from combustion engines towards electric vehicles and creating clean public transport networks without delay."  

Electric vehicle sales vs sales of combustion engine cars

 A spokesman for Germany's Environment Ministry said the country will not sign the declaration at the summit, blaming the hesitation on "the result of the government's internal audit." 

There is still a dispute within the caretaker government about so-called e-fuels, which are made from renewable energies. Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer rejected the agreement yesterday evening on the grounds that it doesn’t take synthetic fuels into account. 

"The fossil combustion engine will be gone in 2035, but the combustion technology will still be needed," he said.

However, subsequent commitments in Glasgow cannot be ruled out — as was the case when Germany signed a declaration to end the financing of oil and gas projects abroad after days of hesitation.  

Many manufactures are nowhere to be seen 

Though Mercedes-Benz has signed on, other major German carmakers like  BMW are conspicuously absent. Auto industry insiders says some manufacturers are suspicious of the agreement because it would commit them to costly new  technology. It is especially problematic because there is no commitment from governments to ensure the necessary charging and grid infrastructure will be built to support electric vehicles. 

An electric vehicle at a Astypalea charging station
Many manufactures complain there is not enough charging infrastructure for electric-powered carsImage: Socrates Baltagiannis/dpa/picture alliance

Volkswagen and Toyota, two more of the world's leading carmakers have also avoided signing. The world's fourth-largest automobile manufacturer, Stellantis, which has brands like Fiat, Chrysler and Peugeot in its portfolio, is also missing, as are Japan’s Honda and Nissan and South Korea's Hyundai. 

Kohei Yoshina, a general manager with Toyota's ZEV Factory  its zero-emissions division   said there were "many different ways to approach carbon neutrality." Speaking to the AFP news agency, he said developing economies such as those in Africa and Latin America would need time to establish infrastructure for electric, battery and fuel-cell vehicles. 

"More important than having a joint statement is the fact that each and every player is taking up the challenge and trying to make efforts towards carbon neutrality," Yoshina said. 

Overall, the transport sector is one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases because of its dependence on fossil fuels. According to experts, switching to cleaner forms of transport is crucial to achieving international climate objectives. 

With additional reporting from Sarah Steffen in Glasgow.

This article was adapted from German.

Portrait of a woman (Jeannette Cwienk) with blonde hair and wearing a scarf and gray blazer
Jeannette Cwienk Writer and editor with a focus on climate and environmental issues