Catalonia in, Spain out: 31 countries and 11 car manufacturers commit to stop selling polluting cars by 2035

US, China, Germany and France do not sign pact either

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Delays on the Ronda Litoral of Barcelona

BarcelonaA total of 31 countries and 11 major automobile companies have committed this Wednesday, in the framework of the COP26 climate summit, to sell only zero-emission cars by 2035 (2040 in the case of developing countries). The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Austria and India are among the signatories, but major car manufacturers such as the United States, Germany, France and Spain are missing. The latter three, however, are awaiting the negotiation of a proposal from the European Commission that goes in exactly the same direction and that if successful would also establish a ban on the sale of polluting cars throughout the EU in 2035.

The companies that have joined the Glasgow commitment are Ford, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and China's BYD, which together account for 17 million cars sold in 2019, but the significant absences of BMW, Toyota, VW and Stellantis stand out. Among the 38 regional and local governments also signing the agreement are Catalonia and Barcelona.

In total, the countries and companies signing the agreement today account for 16% of global car sales. If the EU joins with the approval of the regulation proposed by Ursula von der Leyen, the ban would be extended to 30% of global car sales. This would mean that one in three cars sold in the world would be electric from 2035. It is an important albeit insufficient step forward in transforming the transport sector, which is responsible for a quarter of global CO₂ emissions, most of which come from roads. Eliminating CO₂ from vehicles also means eliminating many other emissions that are toxic to human health, such as particulate matter (PM) and NO₂. But without regulatory intervention by governments, the current market trend still predicts a growing fleet of fossil fuel vehicles.

On the negative side, the world's three biggest car markets – China, the United States and Japan – have not signed the agreement. In the case of the first two, however, some of their main producers have. All signatory companies, in fact, account for a third of car sales in the United States. At the same time, British negotiators, who have pushed for the agreement, stress that the conversion of Europe and Canada, two of the main export destinations for American cars, will be an incentive for transformation in that country as well.

Local governments and fleet-owning companies

In contrast, India, the world's fourth-largest car producer, has come on board. The Indian industry has committed to producing one third of its electric vehicles by 2030. In addition to state governments and large companies, the agreement has also been signed by 38 regional and local governments, including Catalonia and Barcelona, and 27 vehicle fleet owners, such as AstraZeneca, Unilever and Ikea, for example.

The electrification of transport is one of the key measures to be able to cut CO₂ emissions by half in this decade, as called for by UN scientists. The International Energy Agency warns, in fact, that avoiding global warming of more than 1.5°C would require a total, or near-total, ban on sales of combustion vehicles from 2035. This Glasgow agreement is heading in this direction, but it has yet to bring the other two thirds of the world on board.

Electric vehicles today account for 7.2% of new cars sold in the world, according to 2021 data. It is a minuscule figure but it has grown from 4.3% in 2020 and 2.8% in 2019. The figure also varies depending on the geographical area: in Europe they already account for 17% of cars sold and in China 11%, but in the United States they are still only 3% and only 1% in Japan. This is proof that reaching 100% electric sales by 2035 –however urgent– is far from straightforward.