The European parliament has voted to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2035, defeating attempts by centre-right lawmakers to weaken the target.
Lawmakers hailed a major victory for the climate after an intense day of votes on a set of laws that make up the EU green deal, the bloc’s main response to the climate crisis.
Pascal Canfin, a French centrist MEP, who chairs the European parliament’s environment committee, said ending the sale of non-zero emissions cars was “a historic decision that will lead us towards a new era of climate neutrality. It is a major victory.”
MEPs still have to negotiate the final law with ministers from the EU’s 27 national governments. The parliament’s vote, however, increases the pressure on governments for a clear end to the internal combustion engine in the EU single market of 447 million people. MEPs rejected a centre-right amendment that would have excluded 10% of cars from the 2035 deadline.
Earlier in the day, the European parliament rejected as too weak a central plank of the EU’s plan to combat the climate emergency, after the centre-right MEPs attempted to water down key proposals.
Uproar and recriminations followed after MEPs voted against a proposed overhaul of the European emissions trading system (ETS) that aimed to curb pollution from power stations and factories.
Green and Social Democrat MEPs voted down the ETS text, saying they had prevailed over “the fossil alliance”. The centre-right accused those MEPs of siding with the anti-climate far-right.
The rejection of the ETS changes led to the postponement of two linked votes: a controversial carbon border levy that would impose costs on foreign imports of iron, steel, cement and other polluting products; and a “social climate fund”, which aims to shield poorer households from the cost of energy efficiency improvements.
The proposed laws will now be sent back to the European parliament’s environment committee, the body tasked with finding a compromise between political groups.
The three laws are part of a broader EU response to the climate crisis, with the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the end of the decade.
MEPs are due to enter negotiations with officials from member states, the final stage of turning the EU’s green deal promises into legally binding requirements. But the timing has now been thrown into doubt.
The votes followed recent warnings from scientists that carbon dioxide levels were now 50% higher than during the pre-industrial era and that global heating of more than 1.5C would lead to a catastrophic impact from worsening heatwaves, storms, droughts and floods.
The ETS, created in 2005, is one of the EU’s flagship policies to cut greenhouse gases. The European parliament’s environment committee had proposed the industrial and energy sectors covered by the ETS should reduce emissions by 67% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. The European Commission proposed a cut of 61%.
But the centre-right German MEP Peter Liese, the parliament’s lead negotiator on the legislation, angered some when he proposed scaling the target back to 63%. In another move heavily criticised by green campaigners, he wanted to slow down the phaseout of free emission permits for industry.
While power stations pay for pollution permits, energy-intensive industries benefit from free allowances to protect them from more lightly regulated competitors outside the EU. The EU now wants to end free allowances and impose a levy on polluting imports, known as the “carbon border adjustment mechanism”.
Liese accused the Social Democrats and Greens of having “wrecked our compromises” and “thus diminish[ing] the influence of the parliament”.
“The Social Democrats and the Greens have failed to live up to their responsibility for climate protection,” Liese said. “They wanted a 67% reduction … at the very time when we are challenged by the crisis in Russia and the need to become less dependent on Russian gas. I think it is really indecent and I hope that we can correct the mistake.”
Jakop Dalunde, a Swedish Green, said a “progressive majority” had prevailed over “the fossil alliance” and prevented the worst. “It is essential that we get the emissions trading system right. ETS, as the biggest climate policy instrument, only works if we have ambitious targets for significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.”
Pascal Canfin, the centrist chair of the environment committee, promised the search for compromise would begin immediately. “This deal could be made this afternoon, could be made in two weeks, could be made in July, I don’t know yet. That is what we are going to start discussing,” he said.