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UK Government joins over 100 other COP26 delegates in committing to the transition to zero emission vehicles.

On 10 November 2021 at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), more than one hundred governments, cities, states, regional governments, automotive manufacturers, fleet owners and operators, and investors signed a declaration (Declaration) committing to rapidly accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The signatories agreed to work together towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero-emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets.

Those who signed up to the Declaration include the Governments of Canada, Denmark, Israel, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Ukraine. Signatory cities, states and regional governments include, importantly, California, Texas and New York in the United States, as well as São Paulo in Brazil and Victoria in Australia. The list of motor manufacturers signing up includes Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo Cars.

However, it is notable that the two largest car markets, China and the United States, as well as Germany and France, did not sign up to the Declaration. In addition, some of the world’s largest carmakers, including Volkswagen, Toyota and the Renault-Nissan Alliance also did not sign. Of those motor manufacturers who did sign, some already had pre-existing electric vehicle commitments that meet the deadlines announced.

Some carmakers who did not sign up have indicated concerns about the speed of the transition away from burning fossil fuels for electricity production in countries such as China and the United States, suggesting that this needs to move in step with the move to zero-emission vehicles. Others have expressed scepticism over whether the necessary charging and other infrastructure needed to support the transition to zero-emission vehicles will be deployed in time.

The Declaration is not legally binding, and there has been criticism that this fact, together with the absence of certain major car-producing countries and manufacturers, puts a question mark over the effectiveness of the Declaration. Nevertheless, others have pointed to the symbolism of the Declaration and praised it for sending the right message, backed by some heavyweight signatories.

Other transport-related announcements at COP26 included the launch of the Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council, an international forum focused on enhancing political cooperation on the transition to zero-emission vehicles and bringing together Ministers from governments representing over 50% of the global car market. The Council is to meet regularly to discuss how to accelerate the pace of the global transition to zero-emission vehicles, to reduce emissions and help the global economy meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement.

The UK Government has also confirmed its pledge that all new heavy goods vehicles in the UK will be zero-emission by 2040. The Government says that the UK will become the first country in the world to commit to phasing out new, non-zero emission heavy goods vehicles weighing 26 tonnes and under by 2035, with all new heavy goods vehicles sold in the UK to be zero-emission by 2040.

There has clearly been much focus on COP26, which has certainly heightened awareness of the risks of climate change, and what needs to be done to avoid a climate crisis. However, despite the various COP26 announcements, some commentators have argued that further and more stringent action will be needed very soon if the climate goals are to be met, so it will be important to watch closely how much momentum the COP26 conference has generated, and how the post-COP26 world emerges.”

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