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‘Green’ Europe flattened by car lobby 13.02.07

The European Commission has once again put the interests of the car industry in front of its commitment to reducing CO2 emissions. In 1998 the car industry promised new cars would average 140 grams of carbon emissions per kilometre, they have failed to make good their word.

The European Commission, which has been pushing since 1996 for a target of 120 grams per kilometre, has agreed to give the car industry until 2012 to get the average emissions of new cars down to 130 grams. This compromise is way below what EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas has been pushing for and represents a clear political decision by the college of Commissioners to give the car industry, if not the rest of us, some more breathing space. In reality the car industry have lagged seriously behind there own voluntary targets, at the moment the average is 160 grams/per klic a massive drop of exactly two grams from 2004. In the United Kingdom according to a study done last year the average is 167 grams.

Transport in general is one area that Europe is seriously running backwards on, between 1990 and 2004 CO2 emissions from transport rose 32% which sort of messes up Europe’s commitment to the Kyoto agreement to cut overall CO2 emissions by 8% from the 1990 level. In 1990 transport represented 12% of Europe’s total emissions in 2004 it had climbed to 28%. To be fair to the car industry the rise in air travel within the European Union has made a major impact but Transport and the Environment estimate that “light duty vehicles”- cars and vans to the rest of us, make up approximately 50% of these emissions. Even the car industry agree that their products are responsible for around 11% of the total CO2 emissions in Europe, the Commission estimate 12%.

The car industry in the form of ACEA has fielded a host of reasons why the Commission’s approach is wrong, focusing on technological solutions to what is a societal problem- that is the problem is car use not cars. The usual batch of threats and predictions of economic collapse in Europe that is the standard fare of big industry lobbyists, remember how Kyoto was the end of industry, the end of duty free meant the end of affordable travel in Europe et al. The car lobby’s parting shot is that classic double whammy, cars will go up in price-£2,650 each apparently, and hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost as the industry moves out of Europe.

The European car industry itself is not united however, of the 20 car brands in Europe three are already on track to hit 140 grams, Fiat, Renault and Citroen, Fiat indeed is already at 140 grams, Ford and Peugeot are almost there. However the bottom 10 performers are from bad to really bad- Honda, Mercedes Benz, Hyundia, VW, BMW. Volvo, Audi, Mazda, Suzuki and the wooden spoon goes to Nissan.

It is clear that manufacturers who have their main revenue in the small to medium car size market are seeking marketing advantage by addressing both consumer and regulatory concerns on emissions- leaving the “luxury” (Read big and expensive) car and urban 4x4 market to complain about “war” being waged on them by their own industry.

The European Commission’s announcement that it is seeking a 20% cut in GHG (Green House Gases) emissions by 2020, to even reach the Kyoto 8% they are going to have to tighten up their focus on the transport sector, as Aat Peterse of Transport and the Environment says, "Now they have failed to do the job they agreed to do, it makes no sense to let them off the hook." Now is the time to congratulate the brands that have struggled to meet the targets and to penalize those that have failed to make the effort.

It is now up to the Commission to turn this proposal into draft legislation, then it has to go through both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers- it will be interesting to see what is finally spat out the end sometime in 2009- maybe.

Peter Shield

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Related links

Transport and Environment

ACEA European Automobile manufacturers Association

European Commission Press Release

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