• Anger as environment committee sets back emissions improvements for cars

    The European Parliament’s environment committee has voted to delay the Commission’s proposed Euro-5 pollution standards from cars, and to weaken some elements of the package.

    In a vote earlier this month, the committee voted to delay implementation of Euro-5 standards until September 2009 and grant exemptions for off-road sports utility vehicles (SUVs) over two tonnes.

    With a transition period before member states can deny approval for cars not complying with Euro-5 requirements, it effectively delays the new standards until 2011.

    The committee has also set Euro-6 standards that will not enter into force before September 2014, with implementation not happening before at least September 2015.

    As a result of the vote, EU-registered cars will not be required to reduce their NOx emissions to 70 milligrams per kilometre until 2015. By contrast, new rules coming into effect in California next year will require all new cars to have a maximum of 40mg/km.

    This means that any car makers wanting to sell a model in all 51 states of the USA will have to meet the 40 mg/km limit, indeed the world’s leading car makers have said they would prefer one standard to work with.

    Another part of the committee’s vote will exempt SUVs from the same limits as other cars in the Euro-5 round of standards. In a tactical concession to win the support of centre-right EPP members, the committee agreed that SUVs could remain categorised as vans, but called for the special treatment to be removed under Euro-6.

    Although the committee’s position still has to be approved in the full Parliament next month, the fact that it was a cross-party deal means major changes in the October plenary vote are unlikely. As the Parliament’s position seems to be close to that of ministers, observers expect a final agreement to be reached before the end of the year.

    The Green MEP Rebecca Harms said: “California and some other US States require cars to be almost twice as clean by next year. The technologies to reduce NOx emissions would also lead to fuel savings. There are clear opportunities both to improve air quality and reduce the climate impact of cars, but they have been missed.”

    Parliament deal lets down 3 billion people worldwide
    Editorial by Jos Dings

    What a golden opportunity missed – not just for Europe but for the whole world!

    The decision this month by the European Parliament’s environment committee to delay the introduction of the Euro-5 vehicle emissions standards is disappointing enough for Europeans worried about the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality. But the consequences are not just bad news for them, but also for the three billion people in the rest of the world who live in countries that apply EU standards.

    Emission standards for cars (and lorries) are probably the most powerful tool the EU has to reduce the environmental impact of transport in Europe, and even on a global basis. Almost all of Asia – including China, India and Russia – adopt European standards, generally a few years after they have been introduced in Europe. This means the Euro-5 and Euro-6 standards are an opportunity to clean up the diesel car and give it a technology that can be sold worldwide, even in markets with much stricter limits like the USA and Japan.

    Yet instead of embracing this golden opportunity to set standards for European automotive technology to be the envy of the world, the environment committee has approved a regime that will mean European car makers exporting their cleanest vehicles to overseas markets. And they have done this with a cross-party deal that excluded the Greens, and will probably now end the Euro-5 process before Christmas.

    The committee’s vote means Euro-5 standards, which include lowering the particle limit for diesel cars, would apply to new car sales as late as 2011. For the next four years, selling diesel cars without a particle filter would still be allowed in Europe. So despite the fact that filters are common technology in countries like Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, the large majority of EU citizens will still not enjoy the health benefits of them.

    The next generation of standards, Euro-6 (which will involve lowering the NOx limit for diesel cars), will not apply to new car sales until at least September 2015. For the next nine years, European diesel cars will remain too dirty to be granted access to America and Japan. During all this time, European car makers will be exporting cleaner diesels abroad than they sell at home. And even Euro-6 diesels will still not be clean enough to make it in California and four other US states that set stricter standards. It is also worth noting that the enterprise commissioner Günter Verheugen has said that Euro-6 could enter into force by 2013, almost three years earlier than the date requested by the European Parliament’s committee charged with safeguarding the environment.

    It is worrying that the environment committee has bowed so deeply to short term cost considerations and ignored the strategic international outlook and considerations of environment, health and innovation. In the past, MEPs have often done their duty towards the European citizens that elected them by consistently being “greener” than the Commission and the member states. That seems to have changed and that is bad news for Europe.

    We can only hope the roles will be reversed over Euro-5: that the 25 member states see the big picture better than the MEPs on the environment committee did, and insist on stricter standards and an earlier implementation date.

    This news story is taken from the September 2006 edition of T&E Bulletin.