Securing the legislation is only half the battle

November 16, 2009

Editorial by Kerstin Meyer, T&E Policy Officer It was Germany’s ‘iron chancellor’ Otto von Bismarck who once said, ‘Laws are like sausages – it is better not to see them being made. This quote is not only true for the making of EU laws but also for what happens after they have been decided. Because making the law is only half the battle.

After a law has entered into force, a whole lot of decisions need to be taken on how it is all going to work. This is done in ‘stakeholder meetings’, ‘implementation workshops’, ‘standardisation bodies’ and the mysterious EU process called ‘Comitology’ which sees the Commission set up a committee to liaise with national administrations on how a law is to be implemented.

The much fought-over regulation on setting carbon dioxide limits for new cars specifies that all car companies have to meet a target of 130 g/km for the average new vehicle by 2015. If they don’t, they will be fined. That principle is clear. But now that the permitted emissions level has been set, the fight is starting about how to calculate these emissions.

Car makers will incur a fine for every gram of CO2 by which they go beyond their legal limit. Consequently there are now quite a few debates about what can be counted as part of the car maker’s final CO2 emission ‘balance’ and what cannot.

One example is the whole question of how the so-called ‘eco-innovations’ will be counted towards the target. According to this scheme, car makers would basically be given ‘CO2-credits’ for using technologies for reducing CO2 emissions that are not measured in the current EU emission testing procedures. The reason car makers like this is that ‘eco-innovations’ are usually cheaper than developing new fuel-efficient engines. Therefore, EU bodies will have to agree on assigning the right amount of CO2 credits to something that there is no agreed way of measuring.

As if that is not confusing enough, there is another debate about which technologies would qualify for these credits. Would credits be given to technologies that are not covered by the test-cycle, or to technologies that are ‘partially not covered’? The complexities of how you count something you don’t quite know how to measure, and how much of a CO2 reduction share you assume for the part that is ‘partially not covered’ by the law, make me want to tear my hair out.

The important issue here is the danger that real, measurable CO2 reductions might be replaced with fuzzy, un-measureable ones. We have argued that clear emissions standards need to be set so industry knows where it stands, but it is vital that the whole purpose of the regulation – to reduce harmful emissions from cars in absolute terms – is not forgotten as these technical issues are worked out.

Most of these decisions will be taken outside the political arena, and most of these debates are so technical that their climate impact is hard to spot at first glance. Yet they do impact on climate. It is therefore essential that these technical processes are transparent and open to scrutiny, so we can check that this important regulation that took so long to agree is not further weakened.

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