By Jason Mathers and Peter Zalzal
The global call of international climate leaders for COP 26 delivered transformative commitments from countries and companies around the pace of the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Leading carmakers such as Ford, GM and Mercedes-Benz, as well as more than two dozen countries, agreed that by 2035, all new cars sold must be zero-emission. Fifteen countries also agreed that the same should be achieved for trucks and buses by 2040.
It is great to see global commitments to these goals (as EDF has previously called for) because transport is the primary source of climate pollution and a leading cause of premature deaths around the world. However, in both of these historic agreements, the United States was missing.
Americans deserve the health and economic benefits that achieving these goals would bring. Given the longevity of new vehicles, these targets are crucial to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
Fortunately, it is not too late for the United States to embrace these time frames and support these goals with transformative, sustainable policy solutions.
The fine print
Ford’s embrace of the 2035 leading time frame for leading markets is particularly noteworthy. The company’s recent push for electric cars has been well documented. It is also a step needed to meet science-based climate commitments, and a step that will create growth.
A recent analysis commissioned by EDF showed that a single assembly plant with 3,300 direct jobs producing Ford electric F-Series trucks, including the F-150 Lightning, could support 44,000 U.S. jobs and more than $ 5 billion of U.S. gross domestic product. Ford joined General Motors – which previously embraced the 2035 date – as well as several other automakers in the announcement, and over two dozen countries – including event host UK – to commit to this time frame.
For heavy trucks, 15 countries agreed to work together towards 100% zero-emission sales of new trucks and buses by 2040. This global Memorandum of Understanding for zero-emission medium and heavy vehicles is similar to the US regional MOU signed in 2020 by 15 states and DC to cooperate on the adoption of zero-emission trucks. The 2040 time frame is crucial to accelerate the transition to 100% zero-emission trucks and buses, which EDF and others have called for to address the climate and air quality crisis we are currently facing.
The Global MOU also includes a preliminary target of 30% zero-emission sales of new vehicles by 2030, reflecting the urgent need to rapidly grow this market now from a small base.
As we have noted before, it is within our reach to achieve this goal. Getting there requires that we first focus on scaling production in the heavy truck segments that are most ready to go into electrification – of which there are many: Local vans, transit buses, school buses, vans and garbage trucks are among the vehicle types that can support widespread electrification between now and 2030.
A requirement to act
The environmental efforts to meet the time frame outlined at COP26 are enormous for the US EDF analysis shows that elimination of pollution from all new trucks and buses by 2040 – and from trucks and buses used in urban and community areas by 2035 – would prevent 57,000 premature deaths and eliminate more than 4.7 billion tonnes of climate pollution by 2050.
The savings for passenger cars would be even more extensive. EDF analysis of these vehicles showed that ensuring that all passenger cars sold by 2035 were zero-emission would eliminate more than 11.5 billion tonnes of climate pollution cumulatively and prevent as many as 98,000 premature deaths by 2050.
The Biden administration issued an executive order in August outlining steps for U.S. action to speed up the adoption of zero-emission cars and trucks. To realize this vision, the administration should move forward with new emission standards that eliminate pollution from all new passenger cars by 2035 and all new trucks and buses by 2040. Congress must also lead by introducing the critical provisions on electric vehicles in Build. Back Better Act.
It is disappointing that the United States missed an opportunity to join other countries in these commitments at COP26 and establish itself as a leader in the global transition to electric cars. But America can continue to lead on zero-emission vehicles if it seizes this moment to support regulation and policies that will generate hundreds of thousands of high-quality jobs, improve air quality for all Americans, and fight climate change.