The European Council on Monday reached an agreement on the European Commission’s proposal to update and strengthen CO₂ emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

The aim of the proposal is to further reduce CO₂ emissions from the transport sector, principally by increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles within heavy-duty fleets.

The Council backed an original motion from the Commission, which suggests a 45% reduction in CO₂ emissions by 2030, followed by 65% in 2035 and 90% in 2040.

Member states have disagreed on the starting date for rules that mandate zero-emissions buses in urban areas. France, the Czech Republic and Romania challenged the Commission’s proposal for zero emissions by 2030. An agreement has now been reached which sets out an 85% reduction in emissions by 2030 and 100% by 2035.

Debate over initial proposals for the contentious issue of the Carbon Correction Factor (CCF) mechanism dominated much of the negotiations. Originally tabled by Italy, the CCF aims to “take into account the contribution from the use of sustainable transport fuels such as advanced biofuels and biogas when assessing the compliance of newly registered heavy-duty vehicles with CO₂ emissions reductions”. Effectively, it would allow the carbon emissions saved using these lower-carbon, but still polluting, fuels to be deducted from fleet CO₂ targets.

 A recent report from non-profit think tank the International Council on Clean Transportation analysed the potential climate risks associated with a fuels crediting system. It found that the mechanism would, in real terms, see CO₂ reduction targets drop by eight percentage points across the board, effectively increasing the number of combustion engine vehicles allowed to remain on the road.

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Proposals for the CCF were backed by several countries including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. Automotive major Germany, Austria and Denmark all raised concerns over the impacts of the mechanism.

Danish officials said that the system would “make it impossible to prevent the continued use of fossil fuels”, according to Euractive. Austrian Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler added that “Volvo, Scania and Daimler have spoken out to reject the carbon correction factor quite explicitly,” echoing Germany’s suggestion that the CCF “would reduce the level of ambition of the proposal” and “undermine planning security for the industry for the future”.

A compromise was reached after the Commission promised to reassess the role of CCF in its 2027 review, suggesting that its implementation is still several years out.

The Council’s general approach will now go to the European Parliament for negotiations before the two bodies begin trilogues to agree a final deal. The Parliament is expected to decide its position on 24 October.