• EU’s first binding rules on car CO2 emissions attacked for weakening current target

    A draft of Europe’s first ever legislation forcing car makers to emit a maximum level of carbon dioxide emissions was published in December. T&E criticised the Commission’s proposals as failing to set a new long-term target and weakening the existing target.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]Amid pressure from environmental groups and despite having pushed for significant action to combat climate change at the UN’s climate summit in Bali the previous week, the Commission stuck to its aim of weakening its requirement on car makers to limit average CO2 emissions to 120 g/km by 2012. It says the long-standing target of 120 g/km by 2012 has not been abandoned, but the makers will be responsible for an average of 130 g/km, with the last 10 g/km to be made up of other measures for which legislation will be proposed later this year.

    The draft legislation – announced by the environment commissioner Stavros Dimas alone, after the enterprise commissioner Günter Verheugen declined to turn up – aims to enforce the makers’ target by imposing a scale of fines, starting in 2012 at €20 per gram of CO2 per car over the target, rising to €95/g in 2015.

    Environmental groups criticised the level of fines, and the fact that the Commission has ignored the calls of NGOs by including a weight-based scale, which means heavier vehicles will be allowed to pollute more.

    Dimas said: ‘Manufacturers of larger cars will be asked to do more than the makers of smaller vehicles, to avoid the perverse incentive to make heavier vehicles.’ But T&E disagreed, calling the weight scale ‘a pat on the back for SUV makers and a setback for Europe’s low-carbon future’. T&E director Jos Dings said: ‘If this becomes law, it will boost the SUV arms race in Europe.’

    The car industry’s association Acea was strongly critical of the agreement, saying the required technology could force up the price of new cars by up to €3650. Yet a report by the international debt-rating company Moody’s said the car makers were exaggerating the costs, and that the legislation would bring price increases between €300 and €1000.

    The Commission’s own impact assessment says the legislation will add €1300 to the price of the average car, but deliver fuel savings of around €2700 over its lifetime.

    The biggest pressure to water down the legislation has come from Germany, whose government and commissioner (Verheugen) have been fighting for the German car industry, which produces larger cars on average. The German chancellor Angela Merkel said of the draft law: ‘This is industrial policy at Germany’s expense.’

    Verheugen’s absence from the launch was seen as a form of protest, and even a month later he was still distancing himself from the draft legislation. ‘All industries should be made as environment-friendly as technologically possible,’ he told MEPs, ‘but I don’t think we should do it in a way that our international competitiveness is undermined. If it’s immoral to drive a big car and pollute more than somebody who drives a small car, it is equally immoral to live in an enormously big house that costs a lot to heat.’

    Dings replied; ‘It is not “immoral” to live in a big house, but it may be immoral not to insulate it properly and fit double-glazing. That is the point that Mr Verheugen seems to be missing.’

    The draft legislation now goes to ministers and MEPs. It may get a rough ride with MEPs, who have in recent votes indicated a willingness to accept the argument that car makers should have an extra three years’ breathing space to implement the CO2 reductions.

    This contrasts with comments from Thierry Morin, the head of the French automotive company Valeo, who says the 130 g/km target is achievable now with off-the-shelf technology. Morin told Le Tribune newspaper: ‘Why isn’t there a law stating that the target of 120 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometre applies today, rather than in five years?’