Austria not rowing back support for EU's car CO2 law, minister says

Austria's Leonore Gewessler attends EU energy ministers' meeting in Brussels
Austrian Minister of Climate Action and Energy Leonore Gewessler attends a European Union energy ministers meeting on high energy prices, in Brussels, Belgium November 24, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

BRUSSELS, March 16 (Reuters) - Austria has already supported the European Union's agreement on a law to phase out new sales of CO2-emitting cars from 2035, and sees no reason to withdraw its backing for the deal now, Austrian Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler said on Thursday.

The EU's landmark law to accelerate Europe's shift to clean vehicles is currently on hold after Germany declared last-minute opposition, despite EU countries and lawmakers approving a deal on it last year.

"Together with a majority of EU member states we reached a compromise on the transition to admitting only 100% emission-free new cars. I see no reason to change this position. The EU needs to be a reliable partner," Gewessler said on her arrival to a meeting of EU environment ministers in Brussels.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer last week said he would oppose banning the combustion engine if the debate was escalated to EU country leaders.

An Austrian official confirmed, however, that responsibility for the government's position on the car CO2 law lies with the climate ministry, which already approved the EU deal.

EU country leaders meet in Brussels on Mar. 23-24. The auto CO2 emissions law is not currently on the meeting's agenda.

The EU says the 2035 date is crucial because the average lifespan of new cars is 15 years – so a later ban would stop the EU reaching net zero emissions by 2050, the global milestone scientists say would avert disastrous climate change.

The EU law would not explicitly outlaw combustion engines, but by requiring all new cars sold from 2035 to have zero CO2 emissions, it would make it effectively impossible to sell new combustion engine cars.

Germany, backed by countries including Italy and the Czech Republic, wants assurances that new cars with internal combustion engines could still be sold after 2035, if they run on CO2-neutral fuels, so-called e-fuels.

Some carmakers are also pushing for the exemption, including sports car makers, such as Porsche who see e-fuels as a way to avoid weighing down their high-performance vehicles with batteries.

Reporting by Kate Abnett and Bart Meijer Editing by Tomasz Janowski

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