COP26: Deal to end car emissions by 2040 idles as motor giants refuse to sign

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A global deal to eliminate new car emissions by 2040 is struggling to attract support from the world’s largest carmakers and governments including the US and China, days before it is due to be revealed at the COP26 climate summit.

Volkswagen has said it would not sign the deal while Toyota is still debating but is highly unlikely to agree, citing the reluctance of key governments to join the agreement, according to people close to the negotiations. The two companies are the world’s largest carmakers.

BMW confirmed it would also not sign the deal, saying: “There remains considerable uncertainty about the development of global infrastructure to support a complete shift to zero emission vehicles, with major disparities across markets.”

The pledge included a commitment to “work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets”, according to a version marked “final” that was seen by the Financial Times. It is due to be released on Wednesday.

The absence of the US and China as well as Germany from the expected deal is one reason several carmakers have held off from agreeing.

Two UK officials confirmed Germany, China and the US had not yet signed up.

Ministers hope that the US, the world’s second-largest car market, might still agree despite President Joe Biden’s concerns over a domestic backlash. “With the US they haven’t explicitly said no yet . . . they might end up signing it,” said one UK official.

China, the world’s largest car market, represents the most significant prize. Discussions have involved whether Beijing would accept a less onerous target for half of its vehicles to be zero emissions.

Germany’s rationale for not signing up was that it wanted to pursue an option of “synthetic fuels” with a lower carbon content. “But we do not see that as zero carbon or anywhere near zero carbon,” the UK official said.

Getting governments on board is key to winning the support of the auto companies, which are investing heavily in electric or hydrogen vehicles.

None of the carmakers is against phasing out emissions but each had raised specific objections to the deal, people familiar with the negotiations said.

VW, which has one of the industry’s most ambitious electric car programmes, would not sign because of China’s lack of commitment to phasing out coal power, said two people familiar with the company’s thinking.

China is one of the largest electric car markets but much of the power generated in the country relies on coal.

VW said: “While the overall global goal of reaching zero emissions . . . is non-negotiable, regions developing at different speed combined with different local prerequisites need different pathways towards zero emissions.”

Toyota, which last year was the world’s largest carmaker, was reluctant to agree to the deal because markets such as Africa and Latin America might take longer to become electric, people familiar with the company’s thinking said. The group, which unlike VW has not ruled out signing the deal, also has a significant presence in the US and China.

BMW had not signed because it believes the shift from combustion engine cars would take longer than expected. It is prioritising cutting emissions out of its supply chain and using more recycling to reduce its carbon impact.

Ford, General Motors, Daimler and Volvo Cars are all expected to sign the deal, which will include pledges by governments, city authorities and investors to work towards ending sales of polluting models by 2040.

GM has stated an “ambition” to make its cars emission-free by 2035, while Volvo has said all models would be electric by 2030.

Daimler has promised it will only sell electric cars from 2030 “where market conditions allow”. Ford has said 40 per cent of its sales would be electric by the end of this decade.

Video: The make-or-break issues facing the COP26 climate summit

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