Europe stalls on cars and climate change

Europe's proposed CO2 emissions standards for new cars are a pat on the back for SUV makers and a setback for Europe's low carbon future according to T&E.

Jos Dings, director of T&E said, "In 1995 Europe recognised the need for a long term target for CO2 emissions from new cars of 120g/km. Today, twelve years on, the Commission has not only failed to come forward with a new long term target but weakened the existing one." (1)

To address the long-term challenges of climate change, oil dependence and higher energy prices, Europe needs to get carmakers on track to deliver cars that are two, three and four times more efficient than they are today. Today's proposal contains only a target of 130g CO2/km by 2012 which can be met with existing off-the-shelf technology. The failure to include targets for 2020 and 2025 means carmakers will fail to invest longer term in fuel efficiency, say T&E.

Today's proposals also contain a gradual phase-in of financial penalties if carmakers fail to comply with the new standards. In T&E's view, this amounts to a further postponement. T&E recommended that fines for carmakers that miss their average CO2 target should be equal to EUR 150 per gram exceeded, per car sold. (2)

"With Europeans increasingly concerned about climate change and higher fuel prices, any carmaker that ends up paying fines should be more worried about the cost of the damage to its public image than the cost of covering the penalty" said Dings.

In addition, the Commission proposes to base CO2 standards on car weight: the heavier the car, the more CO2 it is allowed to emit. This would be hugely favourable for makers of heavy cars such as SUVs, and eliminate 80% of the incentive for car makers to reduce weight.

"If today's proposal becomes law, it will boost the SUV arms race in Europe, rewarding carmakers for their climate-killing strategy of making ever heavier cars. In the long term this strategy will backfire meaning heavier cars, more CO2 emissions and more accident deaths" said Dings.

For years, cars the world over have been getting heavier. Yet, reducing weight is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways of ensuring cars consume less fuel. In the United States, where fuel efficiency standards have been linked to weight in the past, car weight has increased even faster than in Europe. Even more worryingly, research conducted there shows that weight-based standards have made the fleet more dangerous as a whole, because heavier cars cause more accident deaths. Existing American fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and forthcoming standards for cars ('CAFE' standards) will be based on the vehicle's floor-plan area or 'footprint', precisely for this reason. T&E has argued extensively for Europe to follow the new North American strategy of footprint, rather than weight-based standards. (3)

1) The EU target to reduce average new car emissions to 120 g/km was first proposed by Germany, following informal negotiations with member states, at a meeting of European environment ministers in October 1994. That target translates into fuel consumption figures of 4.5 litres/100 km for diesel cars and 5.0 litres/100 km for petrol cars and represents a 35% reduction over 1995 levels.

After further endorsements the 120g/km target was formally announced in a European Commission communication in 1995. The target has now been postponed three times. Today's proposal weakens the target to 130g/km.

2) For a discussion of penalties for non-compliance, see the T&E response to the European Commision consultation:

3) See the T&E report: "Danger ahead: why weight-based CO2 standards will make cars dirtier and less safe", December 2007,

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