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Four of world’s five largest vehicle makers fail to back COP26 emissions agreement China, US & more

Berlin, along with most of Germany’s large cities, is expanding its car charging stations, but the German government is not among the signatories to the COP26 emissions agreement © Getty Images

Hundreds of city and regional authorities have signed a deal to push for the elimination of new car emissions by 2040 but the agreement lacks the support of some of the largest auto players and biggest markets in the world.

The pledge to be announced at COP26 on Wednesday covers a quarter of the world’s cars and is backed by manufacturers including Daimler, Ford, General Motors and China’s BYD, as well as governments including Canada and Chile.

Yet despite months of pressure by the UK, four of the world’s five largest carmakers — Volkswagen, Toyota, the Renault-Nissan alliance, and Hyundai-Kia — have not signed up. China, the world’s largest car market, did not sign. The US, the second largest, was also absent from the agreement by Tuesday evening, although individual states including California, New York and Washington backed the deal, as well as cities such as Dallas, Charleston, Atlanta and Seattle. São Paulo in Brazil and Buenos Aires in Argentina also joined the pledge.

The agreement commits the signatories to ending the sale of new cars that produce emissions in “leading markets” by 2035, and globally by 2040.

The world’s largest car leasing company LeasePlan joined the deal, while Uber also signed, committing to make its entire fleet zero emission by 2030.

Daimler chair Ola Kallenius said the deal “shows there is an underlying mindset that something must be done and can be done”. He said the missing signatories, which includes carmakers BMW and VW and the German government, did not take away from the impact of the statement.

“Each company has to make their own choice, but all the colleagues I know are all moving forwards at a very fast pace,” he told the Financial Times. “There are very few countries putting as much money, resources or brain power into the transformation than the German auto industry.”

Backing the deal costs the owner of Mercedes-Benz little extra, as it had already committed to selling only electric cars by 2030 where feasible, and will only launch battery models after 2025.*

Other automotive supporters such as Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo Cars had also already set out electric plans that fall within the timeline.

But UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said the deal marked “a tipping point in the transition to clean road transport”.

Nigel Topping, who represents the UK on climate change at the UN, said: “We are getting to the end of the internal combustion engine, the only question is when.”

The cities signing up in countries where there was not a national level commitment still sent a “strong market signal”, he said. Yet the failure to get universal backing was derided by environmentalists.

“For this announcement to have credibility all major auto manufacturing countries need to be part of it, including Germany and the US,” said Juan Pablo Osornio, head of the Greenpeace delegation at COP26. “This week is crunch time, and it’s vital leaders send a signal that fossil fuels are on the way out and are no longer a viable investment.”

Helen Clarkson, the head of non-profit organisation Climate Group, said companies that were “not at the table on ‘Transport Day’ are on the wrong side of history”.

In a separate deal, truckmakers at COP26 including Scania and fleet operators including DHL also pledged to make all new vehicles zero-emission by 2040. However, the deal, backed by the UK, Chile, Turkey and New Zealand, again lacked the support of the US government.

*The article has been amended from the original to update the year from which Mercedes has proposed to sell only electric cars where feasible As part of our coverage of COP26 we want to hear from you.

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