Carbon-Free Trucks on the Road to Zero Emissions, with Sophie Defour

A two-bed truck travels from left to right along a road, with green grass in front and blue sky behind. The beds are blue; the truck cabin is yellow with blue accents.

Image caption: The trucking and transportation sector plays an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as it accounts for 25% of EU emissions. Decarbonizing trucks, like the one pictured above, could drive steep cuts in emissions. Image credit: Alf van Beem via Wikimedia Commons.

Script by: Megan Chan | Audio by: Keya Pardasani | Blurb by: Amanda Neslund

Carbon-Free Trucks

The European Green Deal, passed in 2020, sets policy initiatives approved by the European Commission to boost efficient use of resources to green, clean, circular economy and stop climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Reducing emissions from the transportation sector is an important part of the EU’s 2050 zero-emission goal, as the transportation sector accounts for 25% of emissions in the EU.

New carbon emission reduction targets approved by the European Commission set an emissions reduction goal of 90%, compared to 2019 levels, for new trucks by 2040. The reduction pathway includes a series of five year incremental targets, starting with a 4% reduction by 2030. This will require the majority of heavy-duty vehicles to switch to electric power, while allowing some to continue using combustion power. Currently, there are 6.2 million trucks in the EU and 99% of them are powered by fossil fuels, with an average lifespan of 14 years. The commission also estimates 70% of newly sold trucks by 2030 will be diesel powered.

Challenges and Push Backs to the New Targets

These new targets face numerous challenges and considerable pushback from the fossil fuel and traditional trucking industries. Because some European regions will be hard to electrify, some parts of Europe may be excluded from the regulation.  Other concerns include  range insecurity for long-distance trucking, the lack of sufficient EV charging infrastructure,  high electricity prices and tariffs,  electricity grid congestion which limits installation of charging points,  and uneven distribution of charging stations (half of all public EV charging points in the EU are located in the Netherlands and Germany). To combat this problem the EU adopted the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation requiring electric charging infrastructure with a minimum output of 350 kW every 60 km along the TEN-T core network, and charging points every 100 km on the larger TEN-T comprehensive network starting in 2025, and aiming for complete network coverage by 2030.  This regulation also requires charging points to be installed in urban areas for delivery vehicles and in safe and secure parking areas for overnight recharging. 

While truck manufacturers have argued that  the transition is happening too quickly, the European Commission considered but did not adopt  a 100% emissions reduction target.  Environmentalists also raised concerns with the regulations as new carbon emitting trucks built in 2040, will still be on the road in 2050 inhibiting the ability for the EU to reach net zero targets for 2050. One manufacturing company leading the way, is the Swedish truck manufacturer AB Volvo which began producing a series of electric trucks in 2022, and aims for half of its global truck deliveries to be electric by 2030.

About Our Guest

Sofie Defour is the freight director at Transport and Environment, an international secretariat and European advisory agency based in Brussels with a vision for a zero-emission mobility system. Defour leads the road freight team and acts as the clean trucks director. Defour also worked as policy coordinator for climate, energy and environment at the Flemish socialist party and holds a master degree in international politics. Defour sits on the board of the Flemish just transition NGO (Reset.Vlaanderen), as well as on the Sounding Board of the Belgian network for companies with Science Based Targets (Belgian Alliance for Climate Action). 


European Commission, A European Green New Deal 

Reuters, Sweden’s AB Volvo starts series production of heavy electric trucks (2022) 

Reuters, EU proposes 90% CO2 emissions cut by 2040 for trucks (2023) 

Chemistry Views, EU Emission Reduction for New Trucks and City Buses: Zero Emissions Target for New City Buses by 2030 And 90 % Emissions Reduction for New Trucks by 2040 (2023) 

KPMG, Charging ahead: Addressing EV charging infrastructure challenges in Europe

Transport and Environment, E-truck charging infrastructure

European Commission, European Green Deal: ambitious new law agreed to deploy sufficient alternative fuels infrastructure (2023) 


Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break. Climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal: using zero-emission policies to advance the transition to carbon-free trucks. The European Union’s trucking policies require a 90% greenhouse gas emission reduction by the year 2040. Sofie Defour, Trucks Director at Transport and Environment, a European advocacy organization, describes this transformative goal.

Ms. Defour: So it’s challenging of course, because it’s a short time frame for a major transition of the market. Um, but everyone is aware that this is needed, and so it’s more a discussion of how fast can we go and what kind of enabling conditions need to be in place to allow us to go there. 

Ethan: The policy faces some critical economic and political challenges, including infrastructure hurdles and pushback from the fossil fuel and traditional trucking industry.

Ms. Defour: For example, the oil and gas industry, who are of course going to see part of their market cuts. And also by parts of the sector who understandably, um, see this major transition coming towards them and, and, and now need to make, need to think about how they’re going to do that.

Ethan: In response, Defour calls for a national charging rollout plan, but the benefits will extend beyond just reducing emissions from trucks. 

Ms. Defour: So, obviously the first reason why we’re doing this is for climate reasons. Um, but this will also bring enormous air pollution benefits, cutting health costs, and it will lead to cost savings, uh, for transport operators, because actually, battery electric trucks are cheaper, um, than diesel trucks in terms of total cost of ownership.

Ethan: For a deeper dive into the EU’s vision for zero-emission trucking, explore more at 

Carbon-Free Trucks on the Road to Zero Emissions, with Sophie Defour