Green change possible if people see that it works

June 25, 2012

Opinion by Dudley Curtis - T&E Communications Manager Dudley Curtis leaves T&E in August after eight years as communications manager. Here he reflects on how the campaign to force car makers to stick to a maximum average level of carbon dioxide emissions has evolved, and what this says about the chances of further environmental progress.


Back in 2004-05, calling for legally binding CO2 or fuel-efficiency targets was a pretty lonely exercise. The car industry felt it had the legislators in its palm – it had conceded a voluntary agreement but everyone knew its target of 140 g/km by 2008 would never be met. Industry lobbyists laughed at us when we called for legally-binding CO2 standards. Even from the environmental side, the story tended to be presented as ‘tree-hugging greenies’ taking on the might of the evil car industry.

We never saw it so simply. T&E has always used the economic arguments as well as the environmental ones; that it would be good for innovation, create green jobs, save fuel bills and that it was in the strategic interest of the EU car industry to get a competitive edge in low carbon technologies. Reading over our ‘manifesto’ for car CO2 standards, ‘Cleaner is Cheaper’, from 2005, it’s clear to see that we have been very consistent in our message. But we were pretty much alone.

In the last few weeks, as news has spread of an imminent proposal from the Commission on how to reach a 95 g/km target, it’s obvious that something has changed. Something quite fundamental. In Germany, trade unions have come out in favour of the target. The ADAC, the largest association of motorists in the EU, has also supported it. Here in Brussels, Clepa, the association representing parts suppliers (who employ some 5 million people), have been clear that 95g is absolutely the right thing to do. These groups are now talking the kind of language T&E was using seven years ago.

So what has changed? In short, people have seen that binding standards work. The success of the EU’s current CO2 standards for cars is plain to see. The car makers dragged their feet for years, yet in 2007 they were confronted with the reality that mandatory limits were going to happen. What happened then? – car CO2 emissions dropped dramatically! That was not just good news for the environment, but for drivers, for suppliers who make the necessary technology such as start-stop systems, and even for car makers, as it made CO2 – or rather fuel efficiency – a point of competition between manufacturers. Now we’ve all seen the benefits, it should be clearer than ever that fuel-efficiency standards for cars work, and they are good for everyone.

There is a parallel here from another area that T&E has long advocated: road pricing. When Stockholm introduced its congestion charge in 2007, it did so after taking a huge and costly gamble. It installed a full-scale trial of the system for seven months and then took it to a referendum. Having seen the results in terms of traffic and pollution reductions, the population of Stockholm gave the charge a massive thumbs-up. Something similar happened in London, when the mayor who introduced the city’s congestion charge in 2003 was re-elected in 2004 largely because the charge was seen to have made things better. In other words, people may dislike changes to the status quo, but they like green change when they see the impact it has.

Looking ahead, T&E has a bewildering array of challenges on a similar scale to the car CO2 issue. But we have the confidence of having fought the battle over binding car CO2 emissions limits. Even if such limits could – or should – have been stricter than they currently are, we have at least established the principle that setting mandatory challenging targets acts as an incentive to real progress (noise legislators take note). In 2005, that was a battle we still had to fight. We rose to the challenge, and for me personally it’s been extremely rewarding playing a small role in that evolution. Looking at the team now working at T&E, I know they are going to rise to future challenges. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines.

Dudley is moving to the development campaign

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