The German government refused to sign a COP26 climate summit declaration on zero-emission vehicles and vans because the transport and environment ministries couldn’t agree on whether or not e-fuels should be included in the country’s long-term transportation plans. Synthetic fuels are not allowed in combustion engine cars, according to the UK-led COP statement, while German transport minister Andreas Scheuer and portions of the car industry proclaim them a climate-neutral option for future car transportation. According to state secretary Jochen Flasbarth, Germany’s potential future government coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and pro-business FDP still needed further debate. Volkswagen and BMW, both German automakers, have stated that they will not sign the pledge. If the necessary infrastructure and a clean power mix are not available at the same time, BMW CEO Oliver Zipse believes it is “short-sighted” and could potentially hurt the environment. NGO leaders expressed dissatisfaction with Germany’s refusal to sign on to what they regard as “business as usual.”
At the COP26 UN climate change conference, Germany refused to sign a declaration with six other countries to speed up the transition to zero-emission cars and vans. In the midst of a debate over the role of the internal combustion engine, the country opted out. China and the United States, two other major car-producing countries, did not sign the proclamation.
Germany will not sign the statement on zero-emission automobiles today, according to the environment ministry, due to a “internal government study.” While the government has agreed that by 2035, only zero-emission vehicles shall be registered, the cabinet couldn’t agree on another aspect of the declaration: whether e-fuels produced from renewable energies and subsequently utilized in combustion engines are allowed to be part of the solution.
“The environment ministry, like the other signatories to the Glasgow Accord on Zero Emission Vehicles, does not believe that e-fuelled passenger cars are a feasible choice in terms of availability and efficiency,” the ministry wrote to journalists.
According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer told journalists that combustion engine technology will be required in the future. “With synthetic fuels, we want to make it climate-neutral while preserving the technology’s advantages,” Scheuer added.
The “COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100 percent zero emission vehicles and vans” states that signatory governments will endeavor to make all new car and van sales zero emission by 2040 or earlier, or no later than 2035 in major markets, by 2040 or earlier. A zero-emission automobile or van is defined as “one that produces zero greenhouse gas emissions at the tailpipe” in a footnote.
Excluding e-fuels is a “unnecessary impediment,” according to state secretary Flasbarth.
Despite the fact that the environment ministry supports this, state secretary Jochen Flasbarth stated he tried to persuade the UK COP-presidency to remove the footnote so that German consent could be obtained. “I believe this footnote is a needless stumbling block,” Flasbarth added. He went on to say that he was “a little bit annoyed” with the UK government because without the footnote, more countries would have signed the promise, and the transition to e-mobility would be just as quick if the option for e-fuels was kept open. The state secretary went on to say that the Social Democrats, Greens, and pro-business FDP, who are forming the next German government, needed more time to consider synthetic fuels and did not want to rule them out right now.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, there are roughly 109 automobiles per 100 households in car-loving Germany, and the value has been climbing for years (Destatis). The function of the combustion engine has been one of Germany’s most contentious transportation transition concerns in recent years. The country’s automobile industry has refined the technology, which is now on the verge of extinction as e-mobility gains hold. Many jobs, particularly among auto suppliers, are reliant on combustion engines, and some sectors of the industry have battled hard to incorporate the usage of e-fuels in conventional cars in future mobility schemes.
Over the course of their full life cycle, e-fuels can be considered climate neutral. Renewable energy is utilized to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which is then used to make synthetic fuels. After that, the hydrogen is mixed with carbon dioxide to produce drop-in hydrocarbons like diesel. When the carbon dioxide used in the process is taken directly from the atmosphere, it is CO2-neutral when released back into the atmosphere when operating a combustion engine car. Direct air collection, on the other hand, is expensive, and renewable electricity is precious. Because combustion engine automobiles are inefficient because so much energy is lost as heat, it is thought that utilising renewable energy directly in e-cars is a superior alternative.
The recent election campaign in Germany fueled debate over whether combustion engines had a future in the birthplace of the vehicle. The Social Democrats (SPD), Green Party, and pro-business FDP — the potential coalition partners in Germany’s future administration – are presently in Berlin negotiating a deal. While the Green Party has advocated for a future without the internal combustion engine, the FDP has opposed a controlled end date and favors synthetic fuel expansion.
The three parties stated in their preliminary coalition agreement that they want to make Germany a leading market for e-mobility and that they support the European Commission’s proposal that all new vehicles in the EU be “CO2-neutral” by 2035, claiming that this “has a correspondingly earlier impact in Germany.” This, however, is not the same as the EU proposal.
In reality, the Commission refers to “zero-emission automobiles.” The Commission suggested higher CO2 emissions criteria for new automobiles and vans as part of a massive energy and climate law reform package (“Fit for 55”), which would reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2035.
Only zero-emission tailpipe cars – such as battery and fuel cell – are allowed to be marketed after 2035, according to Julia Poliscanova, vehicle and emobility lead at the NGO Transport & Environment (T&E). “E-fuels are just smoke and mirrors for the oil industry to keep doing business as usual,” she told Clean Energy Wire. “We hope lawmakers understand this and keep transportation to true zero emissions technologies only.”
“It’s frustrating that Germany – which now has the Greens potentially in the cabinet – has not signed up to something that is, really, business as usual,” Poliscanova remarked. Getting to zero-emission vehicles and vans in major markets by 2035 was less ambitious than several carmakers had promised. “As the debates on Fit for 55 continue, we sincerely hope Germany changes its mind and endorses the EU-wide plans for a 100 percent zero-emission objective by 2035.”
The Czech Republic has refused to sign the treaty
Other major European automotive hubs, such as the Czech Republic, have also declined to join the pact. The country’s economy is heavily reliant on the automobile industry, and many suppliers are headquartered here.
“The Czech government does not accept the FIT for 55 proposal, which calls for the registration and sale of passenger cars to end in 2035,” said Pavel Zámyslick, the country’s chief climate negotiator. “The current government has agreed that no date should be set there.” “It appears to me that this COP declaration is much more ambitious,” he added.
Of course, the Czech Republic would see an increase in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. “However, the question is whether we can do this in a decade and a half and at what cost.”
Mercedes Benz is present
The promise was also signed by a number of automobile manufacturers. They pledge to strive “towards attaining 100 percent zero-emission new car and van sales in leading markets by 2035 or sooner, backed by a business strategy that is in accordance with achieving this objective, supported by a business strategy that is in line with achieving this ambition.” By 2030 or earlier, business fleet owners and operators, or shared mobility platforms, want their entire fleets of cars and vans to be zero emission vehicles.
German Mercedes-Benz, a division of Daimler, is one of the signatories because it is planning a rapid transition to electric vehicles anyway, according to Daimler CEO Ola Källenius, who spoke today at the Handelsblatt car summit in Berlin. “We have concluded that speed is preferable as a business strategy for Mercedes-Benz,” Källenius said during the conference, adding that starting in 2025, all new car architectures will be electric-only. “I believe Mercedes-Benz will be entirely electrified by 2030, or at the very least 2030 plus X,” he added, adding that the agreement mirrored this strategy. However, he said “You must carefully examine the statement. It states that we “must work toward” emission-free driving, which surely does not contradict what we have already declared.”
When asked why Germany had not joined the accord, Källenius responded that synthetic fuels, or at the very least low-emission fuels, would be required to make the existing car fleet more environmentally friendly.
“In the future, combustion engines will have to contribute to climate protection as well,” says BMW CEO.
Other German automakers, on the other hand, refused to sign the proclamation. According to BMW, the deal will not help to protect the environment. “We have not signed this agreement and have no plans to do so since it will be destructive to the climate under the existing framework conditions,” BMW CEO Oliver Zipse said at the Berlin car summit. “There’s a lot of short-sightedness here, and all I can say is stay away.”
Many countries’ power mix and charging infrastructure will not be ready to ensure that a ban on combustion engine sales contributes to climate neutrality, according to Zipse. Many countries’ electricity will be unfit for human consumption, and if charging infrastructure is inadequate, people will continue to drive outdated conventional vehicles, he warned. In addition to electric vehicles, BMW will continue to develop diesel, petrol, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen automobiles, according to Zipse. He also stated that the end of combustion engines in 2035 was not in the cards. “In the future, combustion engines will have to contribute to climate protection as well.”
Volkswagen, Germany’s largest automaker, also declined to join. “The propulsion question is settled,” stated VW CEO Herbert Diess, when asked if the vehicle market would convert to electric mobility. However, he said that a rapid transition away from combustion engines by 2030 is not feasible for industry, citing the large need for batteries as the main stumbling block, as well as the necessity to construct new mines to supply the essential raw materials. “This is why I believe the EU’s goals are excessively lofty. We won’t be able to speed it up, I’m afraid.”