'Game over for the internal combustion engine' as EU countries approve climate measures

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A luxury Audi car is surrounded by exhaust gases as it is parked with a running engine in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Germany's transport minister said Thursday that he opposes plans to ban the sale of new cars with combustion engines across the European Union in 2035, arguing this would discriminate against vehicles powered with synthetic fuels. EU lawmakers voted Wednesday to back the measure that requires automakers to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 100% by the middle of the next decade, effectively prohibiting the sale in the 27-nation bloc of new cars powered by gasoline or diesel. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
The European Union's 27 countries have reached a deal to back stricter climate rules that would eliminate carbon emissions from new cars by 2035. (Michael Sohn / Associated Press)

Following protracted, hard-fought talks, the European Union's 27 countries reached a deal Wednesday to back stricter climate rules that would eliminate carbon emissions from new cars by 2035.

The EU member nations came to an agreement on draft legislation aimed at slashing the bloc's greenhouse gases by at least 55% in 2030 compared with 1990 levels, rather than by a previously agreed 40%.

“A long but good day for climate action: The council’s decisions on Fitfor55 are a big step towards delivering the EU Green Deal," Frans Timmermans, the European Commission vice president in charge of the Green Deal, said after the meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg.

The agreement on the five laws proposed by the EU's executive arm last year paves the way for final negotiations with the European Parliament. EU lawmakers are backing ambitious bloc-wide targets. Final approval of the legislative package requires the EU-wide parliament to resolve differences with the bloc’s national governments over various details.

“The council is now ready to negotiate with the European Parliament on concluding the package, thereby placing the European Union more than ever in the vanguard of fighting climate change," said Agnes Pannier-Runacher, the French minister for energy transition.

The decision to introduce a 100% CO2 emissions reduction target by 2035 for new cars and vans would in effect prohibit the sale in the 27-nation bloc of new cars powered by gasoline or diesel.

Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group, Transport and Environment, said the EU government's agreement was “historic" because it “breaks the hold of the oil industry over transport."

“It’s game over for the internal combustion engine in Europe," the group said.

Greenpeace was more skeptical, saying the 2035 deadline was too late to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

The deal poses a mighty challenge for German automakers, who have long relied on sales of increasingly big, gas-guzzling vehicles for their profits.

Following intense haggling within the three-party government coalition in Berlin, particularly between the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, German officials voted in favor of the compromise overnight.

The German government said the deal would also see the European Commission make a proposal that will allow cars running exclusively on climate-neutral fuels to continue to be sold after 2035.

“This is a huge step forward and steers the transport sector onto the path of climate neutrality,” German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, a member of the Greens, said. By declaring that only cars and light utility vehicles which emit no CO2 can be sold from 2035, “we are sending a clear signal that we need to meet the climate targets. This gives the car industry the planning security it needs.”

The EU wants to drastically reduce gas emission from transportation by 2050 and promote electric cars, but a report from the bloc’s external auditor showed last year that the bloc lacked charging stations. Transportation accounts for about 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the EU,

In addition to the landmark agreement on cars, the package also features a reform of the EU’s carbon market and the creation of a fund to help vulnerable households cope with the planned clean-energy revamp. That issue has become more politically sensitive as Russia’s war in Ukraine has sent fuel prices soaring.

The overall goal is to put the EU on track to become climate-neutral in 2050 and to prod other major polluters, including the United States and China, to follow suit.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.