CALMATTERS: Cars and trucks: How international climate promises compare to California’s mandates

November 10, 2021
By Rachel Becker
Nations convening at the United Nations climate conference pledged today to end the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in major markets by 2035 and globally by 2040, mirroring California’s plans. 
The nations took another major step: a plan to eliminate sales of trucks and buses that pump out planet warming pollution by 2040. But even though it was inspired by California, the international agreement goes beyond the state’s current mandates, which ramp up sales of zero-emission trucks, starting in 2024. 
California signed on in support of both international agreements. Notably absent from both: the United States government and other major car markets, including China and Germany. 
“The feds are, at least in the transportation area, really lagging. And so the California story is really becoming more and more important,” said Daniel Sperling, founding director of the University of California, Davis Institute of Transportation and a member of the California Air Resources Board. 
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in California, and state air quality officials say tougher regulations are coming for cars and trucks. Air Resources Board Chair Liane Randolph said from Glasgow that California has a suite of new regulations under development for passenger vehicles starting with model year 2026 “all the way to the full zero emission transition.” 
In addition, state officials say a draft proposal for medium and heavy-duty trucks, expected by the fall of 2022, would require all new trucks sold in California to be zero emission by 2040. 
California has for decades led the nation with its clean car rules, originally enacted to combat the choking smog that cloaked the state. California has unique authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set its own standards for tailpipe emissions, which have expanded to encompass greenhouse gases, as well. 
In rules enacted by the air board in 2012, California requires that a certain percentage of cars that are produced by a manufacturer and delivered for sale in California be zero emissions.
Each vehicle receives credits based on its electric driving range and other factors. Mandates in the regulation range from 4.5% of a major manufacturer’s fleet in 2018 to 22% by 2025. Companies can meet these targets by increasing sales or by buying and trading credits. 
Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the air board to amp up those standards by initiating a mandate to ban sales of new gas-powered cars and pickup trucks by 2035. Medium and heavy duty trucks should be zero emissions by 2045 “where feasible.” The regulations needed to meet these targets are still under development.
State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Democrat from Long Beach, said she’s thankful to see global commitment to increase electrification of medium and heavy duty trucks even more quickly — which signals that California, too, can pick up the pace.
“Goals only matter if we have focused 2022 legislation that will actually reduce emissions,” she said. “We can’t rely only on goals if they don’t actually get the job done.” 
The budget package Newsom signed this year included $3.9 billion over three years to speed up vehicle electrification. 
General Motors signed on to the international agreement today, reaffirming its commitment to phase out sales of gas powered cars and SUVs by 2035. Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo also signed it.
Absent, however, were Toyota and Volkswagen, the two top-selling automakers in the world. 
“In many areas of the world such as Asia, Africa, Middle East, etc. an environment suitable for promoting full zero emission transport has not yet been established,” said Ed Hellwig, a spokesperson for Toyota Motor North America. “We think it will take more time to make progress, and suitable policies will be required to develop the pathway to zero emission vehicles in the timelines set out; thus, it is difficult for us to commit to the joint statement at this stage.”