Car industry and WHO driving in opposite directions

September 29, 2021

The WHO calls for stricter air pollution limits as car industry steps up lobbying efforts to oppose stricter standards

Europe’s car lobby is using misinformation and dirty tricks to oppose new air pollution standards – precisely at the moment the World Health Organisation is saying air pollution limits should be much stricter. T&E says citizens’ health will suffer for decades if the EU caves in to car industry demands, and concludes that car and truck-makers are “driving in the wrong direction.”

For three decades the European automotive industry has tried to thwart efforts to clean up cars, vans, buses and trucks. The most high-profile attempt was the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal in 2015, but the automotive lobby has a long record of claiming environmental measures to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are not feasible or would be too expensive.

The lobbying effort is in response to the latest set of polluting emissions standards for road vehicles, Euro 7, which will set legal limits for nearly 100 million petrol and diesel cars that will be sold in Europe after 2025. In a new briefing paper, T&E warns that the industry is trying to whip up fears that tough new standards will cripple sales and threaten jobs. Earlier this year ACEA – which, along with Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, spent almost €9 million lobbying in Brussels last year – launched a public campaign against Euro 7, making unsubstantiated claims that the legislation would amount to a ban on the internal combustion engine.

The industry argues that Euro 7 will cost too much and is not technically feasible, but T&E’s paper notes that emissions control technology has progressed significantly since 2008, when the current Euro 6 standards were agreed. ACEA also claimed that Euro 7 would have a limited impact on reducing air pollution and its impacts on health. However, this was based on less ambitious emissions standards than those under consideration, and it contained numerous flaws such as omitting petrol cars, which make up the majority of new cars sold today.

“The carmakers are doing it again,” said Fabian Sperka, vehicles policy manager at T&E. “Affordable technology can now deliver huge cuts in vehicle emissions and save lives. But the car industry is aggressively lobbying against tougher regulations. The industry is driving in the wrong direction, and lawmakers should look past the usual scaremongering and focus on doing what is right for the health of millions of citizens.”

The carmakers’ claims also run counter to statements made by the European Commission, that adopting cleaner emissions technology to meet Euro 7 standards would add between €100 and €500 to the price of a car – less than a paint upgrade on a model such as the VW Golf or Ford Fiesta. For trucks, compliance would add less than 1% to the total cost of ownership over five years.

The lobbying comes on the heels of the World Health Organisation (WHO) calling for significantly stricter limits on air pollution. The WHO’s latest guidelines suggest that, as a minimum, limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – the toxic gas at the heart of the Dieselgate scandal and mainly a result of polluting cars on the road – should be reduced by 75% (from 40 to 10 micrograms per cubic meter). The new limits would significantly reduce health risks and are four times stricter than those previously recommended by the WHO and enshrined in EU and UK laws. However, there is no safe level of air pollution, the WHO warns

Barbara Stoll, director of the Clean Cities Campaign, a European NGO coalition supported by T&E, said: “These guidelines further underline that we are in a health crisis and there is an urgent need to clean up our air. Even low levels of toxic air from polluting cars and vans have a devastating impact on Europeans’ health. City leaders must commit to shifting to zero-emission transport and they need to do it now.”

Road transport is the largest source of NO2 pollution, which causes serious illnesses such as heart and lung disease and results in tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. Toxic air disproportionately impacts low income households and minorities, as a study on London shows. 

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