• First climate change commissioner targets lorries and cars for emissions cuts

    The EU’s new climate change commissioner is promising an initiative on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from lorries, and says the existing agreement to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars could be tightened to provide greater incentives to car makers.

    Last month’s hearings in the European Parliament, at which MEP were able to question the nominated commissioner before approving them for their new posts, gave the first indications about Connie Hedegaard and her brief for the new post of climate change commissioner.

    Hedegaard was adamant that targeting transport will be a central part of her job, suggesting her work will be at least as significant for T&E than that of the new environment commissioner Janez Potocnik and the new transport commissioner Siim Kallas.

    On the subject of the current EU target for the average new car to emit no more than 130 grams per kilometre of CO2 by 2015, Hedegaard said, ‘It can be important to try and review whether we went far enough at the time, because this is a field where technology is really moving very fast.’

    ‘Often we’ve seen industry will protest and say it’s going to be extremely difficult, in fact it’s almost impossible, but then it turns out that when we do these things, we can often do it quicker than assessed before, and claimed before, and they can do it even more ambitiously.’

    Her comments came as official data showed that emissions from passenger cars fell by 3.3% to 153.5 g/km in 2008. This confirms figures published by T&E last September and is evidence that the mandatory target is bringing down emissions much more quickly than voluntary agreements have ever done.

    Hedegaard added, ‘We have still not done what the EU should do on lorries.’ Information from the Commission suggests she is keen to tackle emissions of greenhouse gases from the heaviest vehicles. She is also reported to believe that failure to reduce CO2 emissions from vans and lorries will be bad for business in the long term.

    What form Hedegaard’s intentions will take remains to be seen. She says she will table an ‘integrated legislative package on climate and transport’ during her five-year mandate, but admits she may have ‘a bit of a fight’ with some other commissioners who see dealing with climate change as an obstacle to their own ambitions.

    T&E director Jos Dings said, ‘It is encouraging to hear that Connie Hedegaard is keen to address transport’s excessive contribution to EU greenhouse gases, and coming straight from chairing December’s climate change summit in Copenhagen, she clearly has a strong grasp of what needs to be done.’

    ‘However, we will have to judge her on what she does, not what she says. The last environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, started with very few promises about what he would do but developed into an effective environment commissioner. We obviously hope Connie Hedegaard can be even more effective during her five years.’

    In his hearing before MEPs, Kallas made commitments in principle to decarbonising transport and internalising external costs, as well as expressing reservations about longer and heavier lorries. ‘Transport is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,’ he said, ‘and the only sector where emissions have significantly increased. Delivering the means to decarbonise transport will be a key policy goal for the new Commission.’