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  • Carmakers’ ‘license to pollute’ should be removed, EU research shows

    The “licence to pollute” given to the car industry in real-driving emissions tests is wrong, a long-awaited EU study shows, and it should be phased out immediately, Transport & Environment (T&E) has said. In 2016, EU governments and the European Commission decided behind closed doors that cars could emit 50% above the legal limit for NOx in on-road tests as the portable measuring equipment was “inaccurate”. But this week the Commission’s Joint Research Centre found the gap between lab tests and on-road tests is up to 32% in the worst case.

    The new evidence confirms that portable testing equipment is improving all the time, T&E said, but it comes rather late in the legislative process for MEPs and governments to study the findings before making a decision on new NOx limits. The study was expected months ago but was delayed due to the car industry demanding more tests, thus postponing the publication.

    Jens Müller, air quality manager at T&E, said: “Due to the car industry’s lobbying, the research comes at the last possible moment. The results clearly show that real-driving emissions tests are accurate and there should be no ‘license to pollute’ for carmakers. Lawmakers need to phase it out now.”

    The climate crisis means incremental improvements to conventional cars will not suffice, and leapfrogging to zero-emission technology is necessary. The Commission has announced a Zero Pollution Action Plan as part of its European Green Deal, and committed to go towards zero-emissions mobility after 2025. T&E said MEPs and governments must stop tinkering with emissions limits and instead set rules that will ensure EU industry invests in the technologies of the future.

    Jens Müller said: “The EU’s air pollution laws must drive zero-emission mobility and not leave the door open for laggard carmakers to go on polluting. The next Euro air pollution standard should be the last one before we reach zero emissions. It should regulate all harmful pollutants such as tiny particles and ammonia. Cars must also be clean throughout their lifetime, whether driven brand new in Germany or second-hand in Poland or Romania.” 

    The 2016 decision by governments and the Commission to allow carmakes to pollute over two times the legal limit was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice as the European Parliament was excluded from the process. MEPs are now deciding their position on what the conformity factor should be – if any.