Following several weeks of delay amidst intense lobbying by the German automotive industry in particular, the European Commission on Wednesday (7 February) agreed to propose to mandate limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from cars to an average of 130g/km.

The proposals, which still have to be signed up to by member states, are being condemned by both environmentalists, who say a compromise deal reached after lobbying has weakened existing targets, and the automotive industry itself, which says that the measures are too severe and will damage the competitiveness of the industry.

Specific proposals agreed today are:

  • Average emissions from new cars sold in the EU-27 countries would be required to reach the 120g CO2/km target by 2012. Improvements in vehicle technology would have to reduce average emissions to no more than 130g/km, while complementary measures would contribute a further emissions cut of up to 10g/km, thus reducing overall emissions to 120g/km. These complementary measures include efficiency improvements for car components with the highest impact on fuel consumption, such as tyres and air conditioning systems, and a gradual reduction in the carbon content of road fuels, notably through greater use of biofuels. Efficiency requirements will be introduced for these car components.

  • For vans, the fleet average emission targets would be 175g by 2012 and 160g by 2015, compared with 201g in 2002.

  • Support for research efforts aimed at further reducing emissions from new cars to an average of 95g CO2/km by 2020.

  • Measures to promote the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles, notably through improved labelling and by encouraging member states that levy car taxes to base them on cars’ CO2 emissions.

  • An EU code of good practice on car marketing and advertising to promote more sustainable consumption patterns. The commission is inviting car manufacturers to sign up to this by mid-2007.

How exactly the binding targets will be translated at the level of manufacturers and vehicles, and how the emissions saving of up to 10g CO2/km to be contributed by complementary measures will be divided amongst the various measures identified, have yet to be decided. Discussions will continue for some time.

According to the commission, a precise definition of the regulatory approach will be established after wide consultation and on the basis of a thorough impact assessment. By way of example, in the US an average fuel efficiency level per car manufacturer is applied, while Japan uses a fuel efficiency objective as a function of the car weight. The commission said it would consider the respective pros and cons of the different approaches and propose the best solution for the EU from a climate change and competitiveness point of view.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (Acea) said it could not agree with the proposals made today. It said they are “unbalanced and damaging to the European economy in terms of wealth, employment and growth potential.

“We ask the EU governments and the European Parliament to design a reasonable and level-headed strategy to reducing CO2 emissions from cars towards the EU target of 120g CO2/km by 2012, involving efforts from all relevant parties and including both existing and new cars on the road”, said Sergio Marchionne, president of ACEA and CEO of Fiat Group.

“The ideas put forward today by the European Commission focus too much on vehicle technology, denying the fact that a broad range of means is available to reduce CO2 emissions in a far more cost-effective way to the benefit of equally the environment and the economy.”

Transport & Environment (T&E), the environmental lobby group that first highlighted that vehicle manufacturers were a long way away from meeting voluntary targets of 140g/km average CO2 emissions per car by 2008, when it published a report last autumn, said the impact of the weakened target will be 100m tonnes of additional CO2 emissions over the period 2012-2020, equivalent to twice the annual emissions of Sweden.

However it did commend the fact that car manufacturers will now face binding legislation to improve fuel efficiency.

Jos Dings, director of T&E said: “Today’s announcement finally recognises, 10 years late, that regulation is needed on CO2 emissions just as it is on safety and other forms of air pollution from cars.”

He added: “Not only is the car industry failing on its voluntary commitment to cut CO2 emissions, the commission now wants to reward this failure with a weaker fuel-efficiency target. It’s a very disappointing response to calls last week by the IPCC for serious action on climate change.”

Dings called for an 80g/km target by 2020, rather than the 95g that the commission appears to be working towards.

John Hontelez, secretary general of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: “The German car industry, aided by the German government and a German commissioner, has apparently succeeded in weakening the proposal. The commission has rewarded car makers’ refusal to make fuel efficiency a priority with a more lenient standard than is needed to stop the continuing growth of greenhouse gas emissions from cars in Europe.

“This undermines the commission’s resolve to lead, regionally and globally, on fighting climate change.”

The European Commission also published separately today a communique on a strategy for the European automotive industry based on the recommendations of the CARS 21 group. Full details here

Susan Brown