By 2040, every new car and truck sold in the U.K. will be zero-emissions. The government is one of several to announce two new pledges at COP26 in Glasgow—one to phase out fossil-powered cars and vans, and another to transition to zero-emissions heavy-duty vehicles.
In one declaration, countries pledged to “work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040,” with some, including the U.K., planning to hit that goal by 2035. The list of signatories also includes India, the world’s fourth-largest car market, Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, Rwanda, and a handful of European countries, including Norway, where the majority of new car sales are already electric.
The U.S. didn’t sign, though California, one of the world’s largest car markets on its own, did, and countries on the list represent 70% of American auto exports. (In the U.S., an executive order targets 50% zero-emissions sales by 2030.) Automakers including Ford and General Motors also signed the pledge, along with several large fleet owners, including Uber. By one estimate, the pledge covers around 11.5 million vehicles, or 15% of the global car market. This could be a boost to already quickly growing EV sales: a new Bloomberg New Energy Finance report projects that electric vehicle sales will reach 5.6 million this year globally. Around 7.2% of new cars sold in the first half of 2021 were electric, compared to 4.3% in 2020 and 2.8% in 2019.
In a separate global memorandum of understanding for medium and heavy-duty vehicles, 15 countries, including the U.K., Canada, and European countries like the Netherlands and Norway, pledged to work toward 100% zero-emissions truck and bus sales by 2040. Though electric bus adoption is quickly increasing—Shenzhen, China, with a population of 12 million people, now uses solely electric buses—it’s more challenging to build long-distance trucks. Still, developments in battery technology is starting to make it feasible to make the switch.
“For too long our medium- and heavy-duty vehicles were too difficult to decarbonize,” Steven van Weyenberg, minister of the environment for the Netherlands, said in a statement. “But technology is improving fast and costs are reducing quickly. So now is the time to speed up. Not just for the climate. Everyone has the right to breathe clean air. This cuts both ways: investments now will lead to more green jobs in the coming years. I call on other countries to join our effort as soon as possible.”
To tackle climate change, pledge is not nearly enough. First, countries will have to put policies in place that actually back up their pledges. And the goals themselves must become more ambitious. Research from the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation says that to have a chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, major markets, including the U.S., Europe, and China, should transition to zero-emissions sales for cars, vans, and buses by 2035, and 2040 for trucks. But to limit to warming to 1.5 degrees—something that would significantly reduce climate impacts—global vehicle emissions would have to shrink faster, by 40 to 60% by the end of this decade.