“Shown in blue are the countries where sales of combustion engine vehicles will be banned in 2035. They represent 1/16th of the world population. Already I feel better with my clear conscience as a responsible European citizen,” reads an online post shared more than 16,000 times since February 2023. Alongside the text is a world map on which California and the European Union appear in blue.

The same map has been shared more than 2,000 times on Twitter with the following caption: “Shown in blue are the countries where petrol cars will be banned in 2035!”

The map has been circulating on social media since at least February 23, 2023, according to AFP’s research.


Screenshot taken on Facebook on March 29, 2023
Screenshot taken on Twitter on March 29, 2023

“I didn’t realise it applied to this many people around the world,” one commenter observed with irony, while another struck a note of indignation: “And it’s Europe that will change the climate?… They really take us for fools”.  

Yet, someone else pointed out that “it may represent 1/16th of the world population (I didn’t check), but it’s way more than 1/16th of cars because the countries in question are the most industrialised”. 

On March 28, 2023, EU member states gave final approval to a ban on sales of new internal combustion engines — those that run on fossil fuel — from 2035. The agreement ensures that new cars and vans will be zero-emission by then, which effectively prohibits sales of petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles to the benefit of everything electric.

California announced similar legislation in 2020, and adopted it in August 2022. All new cars sold there will have to be zero emission from 2035, according to the text adopted by America’s most populous state. Only vehicles that run on electricity or hydrogen and certain hybrids will be allowed, which translates to a ban on sales of new petrol or diesel cars from 2035. 

Does not apply to existing fossil fuel vehicles

Some of those who shared the map online (here for example) claim that the countries in blue will ban combustion engine vehicles altogether in 2035. 

But according to the European Parliament’s FAQ on the subject, “these rules don’t affect existing cars. If you buy a new car now, you can drive it until the end of its lifespan. But, because the average lifespan of a car is 15 years, we have to start in 2035 to aim for all cars to be CO2-neutral by 2050.” The FAQ adds that it will still be possible to buy and sell second-hand petrol and diesel-driven cars after 2035. 

A press release from California’s governor issued on September 23, 2020 also said that “the executive order will not prevent Californians from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling them on the used car market”.  

Thus the new laws do not ban petrol or diesel cars. Their owners will be able to continue to drive them or to sell them second-hand after 2035, but motorists will no longer be able to buy the vehicles new.

Incomplete map

The map suggests that only the European Union and California plan to ban sales of new combustion engine vehicles starting 2035. Yet, several other areas around the world — listed in this AFP article from March 2023 — have announced similar goals. 

The trailblazer is Norway, the leading adopter of electric vehicles, where only zero-emission new vehicles will be sold from 2025. 

Zero emission legislation

In addition to California, the state of New York also announced in 2022 that it would ban the sale of new fossil fuel cars, except for plug-in hybrids — which have internal combustion engines but can cover dozens of kilometres in full electric mode — from 2035. 

The Canadian government said in 2021 that it was “setting a mandatory target for all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sales to be zero-emission by 2035.”

Singapore, Israel and the United Kingdom will ban registrations of new combustion engine vehicles in 2030. 

An electric car is being charged at a terminal in a parking lot in Lille, northern France, on September 27, 2022

Partial targets from other governments

In the United States, in 2021 President Joe Biden announced a target for half of all cars sold in the US to be zero-emission by 2030. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2020 electric vehicles only represented two percent of new car sales in the US. 

Major car manufacturer Japan plans to take its time to shift to electric vehicles and is favouring hybrids, of which Toyota is the world champion. The government plans to ban the sale of fossil fuel vehicles except for hybrids in the 2030s. 

China, which is the world’s top polluter with the world’s largest auto market, aims for new energy vehicles (battery electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles) to account for 20 percent of sales in 2025, and for a majority by 2035. 

Like China, which “has a more prescriptive policy and is already ahead of Europe with regard to going electric,” certain countries are moving forward quickly even without binding legislation, according to Marie Cheron, a transportation expert at the Europe-based association Transport & Environment, who was interviewed by AFP on March 24, 2023. As mentioned in the MIT Technology Review, China has had the world’s leading market for electric cars for the past eight years, with 6.8 million electric vehicles sold there in 2022. 

The map is thus incomplete and misleading, according to sustainability expert Augustin Fragniere, of the University of Lausanne of Switzerland. “In addition to total bans, there is also a whole set of economic incentives: taxes that make fossil fuels more costly, electric vehicle subsidies, etc. To focus only on a specific date and ban on sales of combustion engine vehicles is to provide incomplete information,” he told AFP on March 28, 2023. 

As mentioned in the above AFP article, some emerging countries have also taken steps to limit fossil fuel vehicles, though they have weak sales of new cars and electric vehicles remain expensive. 

EU, California with a fifth of the world’s car fleet

According to the logic of the online posts, if California and the European Union only represent 1/16th of the world population, then policies aimed at going electric will not have much of an impact on climate change.

Yet, according to Cheron, comparing these regions with the rest of the world in terms of population is “irrelevant”. Instead, she suggests looking at the number of vehicles circulating in Europe and California, which represent “much more than 1/16th” of the world’s total number of cars. 

The total number of motor vehicles (passenger and commercial) in the European Union reached 286 million in 2021, or 338 million if you include the UK, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, according to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. Ninety-three percent of passenger cars in the European Union ran on petrol or diesel. 

In 2021, 31 million motor vehicles — including 14 million automobiles — were registered in California, making it the largest car market in the United States and one of the largest in the world, according to the Statista data agency. 

In 2021, the EU and California had between the two of them around 317 million passenger cars and commercial vehicles — from a world total of 1.4 billion vehicles according to Cheron — or just over a fifth of the world’s car fleet. 

“These regions may represent 1/16th of the world population, but it’s a population that emits more than the global average,” Fragniere said. 

The US — with California at the top — China and the European Union are the leading emitters of CO2 linked to transportation, according to data compiled by Climate Watch, a platform by the World Resources Institute.

A spokeswoman for the International Council on Clean Transportation NGO agreed that the map seemed “not entirely accurate”. “A more meaningful approach would be to consider the market share of ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles or the motorisation rate (motor vehicles in use per 1,000 people) in these countries. This would help to determine the potential impact of the ban,” she said on March 20, 2023. 

This map from the site Our World In Data shows that the US, Europe, Canada and Australia had the highest car ownership in 2017.


In 2021, Europe had 567 passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants.  

“North America and Europe are the regions that have emitted by far the most greenhouse gas since the industrial revolution,” Fragniere said on March 28, 2023. “So they have historical responsibility.”

Ripple effect

“Not only is acting upon Europe’s car fleet far from insignificant when you consider its share of the global total, but it is also the case that European policy can influence the rest of the world auto industry,” Cheron said. 

“There is a very clear ripple effect,” said Fragniere. “When California began introducing stricter CO2 emission standards for vehicles, it had an effect on the entire American car market. Manufacturers aligned themselves with the more demanding Californian standards to avoid having to make two types of vehicles,” he added. 

“If the entire EU bans all combustion engines, local car industries will have to adapt, but so will every carmaker that exports there,” Fragniere said.

Marie Genries

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Translated by

Anna Maria Jakubek


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