Can it be true that the nation that invented the car wants to ban petrol and diesel engines?
Given that even 130 years on cars remain Germany’s biggest industry, recent reports of a proposed ban on the combustion engine have been met with disbelief: what happened?
Germany’s Bundesrat, the federal body of the government, has passed a resolution asking the European Commission “to look into existing tax regulations of member states in regard to how useful they are to support emission free mobility … so that starting from 2030 at the latest, only emission free cars will be allowed in the Union.”
It seems that the federal states have looked into the consequences of the Paris Agreement. Even more surprising though is that the resulting resolution was supported by all 16 of them.
The industry’s alarm bells started ringing when the Green Party proposed the end of the combustion engine by 2030. Setting such a date would not just be unrealistic, the car-lobby claimed, it would also kill the industrial heart of the nation.
Admittedly it is an ambitious goal.
In 2015 a total of 12372 e-cars were licensed — that’s 0.39% of the total of 3.2 million new cars registered that year. Even with a large part of German cars being exported, the pathetically low figure illustrates the challenge.
What is the alternative, though?
With powerful players such as Tesla, Google and Uber entering the market with new solutions, it is increasingly clear that the industry is headed towards dramatic changes.
Corporations such as Volkswagen need to switch their business model from selling oil-burning engines to offering clean and sustainable mobility solutions. In order to be compatible with the Paris agreement this switch needs to come much faster than is scheduled right now.
Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller recently announced – to much fanfare – that the company plans to increase the share of e-cars to 25% until 2025. But a recent study by the New Climate Institute, commissioned by Greenpeace, showed that in all vehicles will need to be electrified by 2035 in order to limit global warming to 1.5°.
The global industry
It is likely that this switch will be steered by policies.
And with China last week announcing new efforts to boost its conventional hybrid industry, powerful pressure to phase out the combustion engine is starting to come from emerging markets too. Moving early early is starting to look like a existential issue for the industry.
Given the likelihood that the Greens will be part of a new German government that is due to be elected next year, the home country of Carl Benz and the Otto engine might talk about the end of the combustion engine sooner than a lot of people thought.
It’s about time we do — anything else would be bad for the economy and bad for the people.
In Europe there are about 75 000 annual premature deaths linked to air pollution every year. Many are caused by nitrogen dioxide mainly related to combustion engines and a lot of cities are faced with legal cases by inhabitants demanding clean air.
As the giant of the European car industry, Germany could lead the way towards a future for mobility that is emission-free within a mid-term timeframe.
It could provide the European industry and investors with a reliable framework.
In doing so, it could help the industry to stay competitive in the race towards sustainable mobility, solve the air pollution problems of many European cities and push the transport sector to make a substantial contribution towards protecting the climate.
Andree Böehling is an energy expert at Greenpeace Germany.