Cop26: carmakers agree to end sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040

But ‘landmark agreement’ signed by 24 countries also notable for absences of major manufacturers

Twenty-four countries and a group of leading car manufacturers have committed to ending the era of fossil-fuel powered vehicles by 2040 “or earlier”, in a major new commitment set at Cop26.

The agreement to sell only zero-emissions vehicles from this time, unveiled at the UN climate summit in Glasgow on Wednesday, includes Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK, which had already agreed to phase out new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030.

Ford, Mercedes, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz are among the carmakers to sign the accord, pledging to reach the goal by 2035 in “leading markets”, as have numerous cities and regional governments, including New York, London, Barcelona and the Australian Capital Territory.

A further group of countries, including India and Kenya, have agreed to “work intensely towards accelerated proliferation” of zero-emissions vehicles, while a group of financiers and fleet owners have also vowed to phase out fossil fuel-powered cars.

But the agreement is also notable for its absences, with the US, China and Germany, the behemoths of the global car industry, all declining to sign. Volkswagen and Toyota have also not put their name to the deal, along with BMW, which told the Financial Times there was still “considerable uncertainty about the development of global infrastructure to support a complete shift to zero-emissions vehicles”. Toyota said: “Although we refrain from joining the statement, we share the same spirit and determination to address climate change and remain open to engage and work with stakeholders. Toyota will continue to contribute by making the best efforts to achieve carbon neutrality.”

Negotiators had hoped to announce a sweeping deal involving governments and car manufacturers that committed them to reaching 100% zero-emissions cars and vans by 2035.

The British government, however, has hailed the agreement as a “landmark global agreement” and pointed out that in combination with existing pledges to phase out polluting cars, most notably by the European Union, it will cover nearly a third of global car sales. Before the conference UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, had said the mantra of Cop would be “coal, cash, cars and trees”; he will be hoping this deal means that all four have been covered, to some extent.

Transport accounts for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and the International Energy Agency has said the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars will have to cease by 2035 if the world is to avoid surpassing dangerous global heating thresholds.

“Cop26 marks the end of the road for the internal combustion engine,” said Helen Clarkson, the chief executive of Climate Group. She added: “I welcome all leaders standing with us today to show the world that the shift to clean road transport is not only happening, but accelerating.

“For those organisations notably absent – the climate cannot wait for you to get onboard with zero-emission vehicles. It’s time to get out of the slow lane before you miss the exit.”

Steven van Weyenberg, the environment minister of the Netherlands, said it was “time to speed up” the transition to electric vehicles. “Not just for the climate,” he said. “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.”

Activists at Cop26 have called on governments to move away from all types of cars and instead transform cities and towns to become more amenable to walking, cycling and taking public transport. A protest to call for better investment in public transport is taking place in Glasgow on Thursday morning.

“The evidence is clear that we cannot put all our faith in electric cars – we need a more fundamental shift in how we get around, and we have much to gain from this,” said Jools Townsend, the chair of the Sustainable Transport Alliance.

“By focusing on a shift towards public, shared and community transport, walking and cycling, we can create healthier, happier communities and more equal access to opportunity, without adding to emissions and environmental problems through the manufacture of millions more cars.”

A group of city mayors from around the world said last week that investment in public transport needed to double if climate breakdown was to be averted. “Without a revolution in public transport the world will miss the bus on tackling climate change,” said Anies Baswedan, governor of Jakarta.

“Time is running out.”



Oliver Milman in Glasgow

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
UK ministers ‘met fossil fuel firms nine times as often as clean energy ones’
Exclusive: revelations come amid rising concerns over government’s plans to meet net zero target

Fiona Harvey and Phoebe Cooke

10, Sep, 2021 @11:12 AM

Article image
No formal Cop26 role for big oil amid doubts over firms’ net zero plans
Officials from fossil fuel firms may attend fringe events but campaigners hail lack of official role

Matthew Taylor

21, Oct, 2021 @2:24 PM

Article image
Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition
$11tn fossil fuel asset crash could cause 2008-style financial crisis, warns new study

Jonathan Watts, Ashley Kirk, Niamh McIntyre, Pablo Gutiérrez and Niko Kommenda

04, Nov, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
Biden, Bolsonaro and Xi among leaders agreeing to end deforestation
Historic declaration at Cop26 commits countries to ending major cause of CO2 emissions

Patrick Greenfield, Jonathan Watts, Phoebe Weston and Fiona Harvey

01, Nov, 2021 @10:30 PM

Article image
UK held private talks with fossil fuel firms about Glasgow Cop26
Documents show BP, Shell and Equinor had discussions with government officials

Matthew Taylor and Fiona Harvey

01, Oct, 2020 @11:03 AM

Article image
G20 poured more than $1tn into fossil fuel subsidies despite Cop26 pledges – report
Public money still flowing into industry despite agreement to phase out ‘inefficient’ subsidies, thinktank says

Ajit Niranjan

23, Aug, 2023 @7:39 AM

Article image
Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption
Sales increase 43% globally in 2020 as plunging battery costs mean the cars will soon be the cheapest vehicles to buy

Damian Carrington Environment editor

22, Jan, 2021 @12:25 PM

Article image
Climate optimism is an illusion, UN chief tells Cop26
António Guterres says talks may have to become annual and urges countries to ‘choose ambition’

Fiona Harvey in Glasgow

01, Nov, 2021 @1:08 PM

Article image
What happened at Cop26 today – day one at a glance
Summary of the main developments on kick-off day of the UN climate summit in Glasgow

Tom Levitt

01, Nov, 2021 @7:01 PM

Article image
Cop26 pledges could limit warming to 1.8C, says energy agency boss
Fatih Birol says ‘big step forward’ is possible only if all commitments are implemented in full

Jillian Ambrose, Fiona Harvey and Jonathan Watts

04, Nov, 2021 @7:29 PM