A million dirty cars a month: the cost of delaying air pollution rules

Anna Krajinska — February 17, 2022

News that the EU Commission will again delay the Euro 7 standard has echoes of the Dieselgate scandal, writes Anna Krajinska.

“Fool me once, shame on you,” the EU Commission can say to car manufacturers. “But fool me twice, shame on me.”

It’s only been six years since EU regulators were found to be presiding over a system that allowed the car industry to put fat profits before public health. Yet they’re already about to leave citizens exposed to toxic levels of air pollution again. The ‘shame’ this time is over the Commission’s decision to delay new rules for emissions from cars, vans, buses and trucks, which it has been working on since 2018.

It’s been more than a decade since the last standard, Euro 6, was agreed. Yet publication of the new law has been delayed from the end of 2021 to July 2022, a move that will benefit carmakers as it could delay implementation beyond 2025. Waiting any later than 2025 comes with a very real human cost: every month, one million more polluting cars will be sold in Europe than would otherwise have been the case. If Euro 7 implementation is delayed one year, that’s 12 million additional dirty cars which will join the EU fleet and which will stay on our roads for decades. This latest delay to the proposed new clean air law is unacceptable and unnecessary since Euro 7 is ready for publication now.

Human cost

A Euro 7 law that requires manufacturers to cut new car pollution as much as is technically feasible will save tens of thousands of lives. Between 2025 and 2035, when Europe hopes to go fully electric, 100 million new combustion engine cars will be sold, so tighter standards are crucial to cutting pollution toxic to human health such as nitrogen oxide, ammonia and carbon monoxide. But the Commission’s delay casts doubt over its ‘Zero Pollution Ambition’ and its commitment to the EU Green Deal.

The delay, once again, plays straight into the hands of carmakers which, from the start, have been pushing for Euro 7 to be a cosmetic change to standards only, so that they can continue selling the same dirty cars with minimal change to how much they pollute on the road.  The auto industry went so far as to scare lawmakers and the public with claims that stringent new limits would ‘kill the internal combustion engine’ and ‘be too costly’ – claims that have been dispelled. A delay to Euro 7 would allow carmakers to postpone investment into less polluting technology and, once again, put profit ahead of people’s health.

Industry strategy

Just last year five carmakers were fined by the Commission for colluding to delay placing better pollutant control technology in their cars. Last week the car industry association, ACEA, claimed that they can no longer commit to compliance with new Euro 7 standards by 2025 due to the delay, yet the week before it claimed that 2035 is too far away to set rules for new CO2 standards for cars. No one should be fooled by carmakers’ shiny ‘EV days’: weakening and delaying new regulations critical for the planet and people’s health is all part of their strategy to sell the same polluting combustion engine cars for as long as possible.

To help avoid putting even more polluting cars on the EU’s roads, the Commission needs to publish the new standards as soon as possible and no later than its previously planned publication date of the 5 April 2022. Only by publishing the proposals as soon as possible can the Commission demonstrate its freedom from corporate capture and reaffirm its commitment to the Green Deal. Six years has been too long to wait to do something about air pollution. The European Commission must show European citizens that it has learned from the dark days of the Dieselgate scandal, when millions of EU customers were duped into buying grossly polluting cars.

This article was first published by EurActiv.

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