Decarbonization of the vehicle fleet in line with the Paris Agreement is essential to fight climate change. To spur the decarbonization of the vehicle fleet, governments all over the world take measures for the conversion of fleets from internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles to zero-emission vehicles at the tailpipe.
To phase out ICE vehicles many countries plan to ban the registration and sale of new ICE vehicles. The member states of the EU agreed to enforce this ban by 2035. Another measure taken by cities and local governments is the introduction of zero emission zones (ZEZ). This helps to spur the decarbonization of the vehicle fleet, improves local air quality and limits congestion. While there is no strict definition of ZEZs, generally only buses, trucks, and cars with zero tailpipe emissions as well as pedestrians and cyclists are allowed access. The restrictions for freight are not consistent between the different governments, however it is likely that the majority of ZEZs will also apply to freight, perhaps even more so. For example: at least 29 cities in the Netherlands announces to implement ZEZs for freight by 2025!
In addition to national or isolated initiatives to establish ZEZs, 36 cities around the world that are part of the C40 alliance have joined forces. The members of the C40 alliance have set themselves the goal of combating the climate crisis. 36 of these members have committed to creating ZEZs to reduce emissions in city centers. Among them are cities like London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo (see map). In their “Green and Healthy Streets Declaration”, they pledge to establish a significant area of their city as a zero-emission zone by 2030. This means that by 2030 170 million people could live within proximity (within 25km) of ZEZ and thereby affect their future purchasing decisions. Currently, these 170 million people represent a vehicle fleet of about 80 million passenger cars; ZEZs will require accelerated replacement of this fleet. For comparison, IHS currently predicts that around 230 million electric vehicles will be produced between 2022 and 2030.
Besides commitment from European cities, it is remarkable that many cities in developing countries committed to ZEZ. Their ambitious targets signify the high relevance of the climate crisis and pollution of inner cities for these regions of the world. It is likely that some of these cities will delay or soften the implementation of a ZEZ, if more pressing political issues arise.
Furthermore, looking at the map, there is one apparent gap. China, responsible for around one third of worldwide vehicle sales, does not have any cities committing to ZEZs. However, multiple cities like Shenzhen and Luoyang in China, have or a planning to introduce ZEZs for freight vehicles. A change in policy in Chinese metropolitan areas could have a significant impact on the impact of ZEZs on global auto demand. If the current Chinese C40 cities were also committed to creating ZEZs, that would be over 90 million people.
However, the steering effect of cities committing to implementing ZEZs is significant even without Chinese involvement. However, only a few cities so far have made the commitment official, have set a start date, indicated the exact vehicle types affected, and have binding requirements for access based on things like emission performance standards. Examples that fulfill these four conditions currently exist primarily in Europe, which is a role model for ZEZs. It is likely that other nations will follow the European example. What is certain is that the final implementation and impact of ZEZs on car owners will depend on the adaptation of national and local laws.