With Trump in the White House, we're on our own again

America has a new president. And what a start he's gotten off to! His first weeks confirm our worst fears about what a Trump presidency will be like, in particular for the environment. Automotive regulation could be one of the areas most affected, as carmakers demand Trump guts Obama's 2025 CO2 standards in exchange for bringing back jobs to the US.

This is a huge change, but also opportunity, for Europe. For the past eight years it was Obama and his administration that led the way on climate protection, in particular for transport. Obama made a climate deal with China. Obama adopted ambitious CO2 standards for cars and trucks. And Obama's EPA uncovered Dieselgate. Of course, Europe wasn’t completely idle, but a lot of the climate drive came from the other side of the pond.

With Trump in the White House we're on our own again. But we shouldn’t be despondent about that. Europe is well-placed to lead and the context for ambitious EU action on cleaner vehicles has never been better.

First of all, let's remember that most of Europe's climate legislation was originally designed and adopted when George W Bush was US president. The 2020 climate goals, the renewable energy targets, the car CO2 standards – all of it. If Obama looked so energetic and forceful, that's also because he had a lot of catching up to do and a good example to follow. With Trump in charge, it's Europe's chance to take the lead again.

Secondly, the EU has already agreed 2030 climate targets. The -30% reduction target for the sectors outside the ETS means road transport emissions will need to start falling rapidly in the coming years. Without ambitious EU vehicle standards, that's simply not going to be possible. Governments know this, so they will support vehicle regulations that make their lives easier domestically.

Thirdly, the Dieselgate affair has battered Europe's reputation as a credible regulator. Whereas our standards (for example, the Euro standards) were until recently copied and adopted by much of the world, that is now changing. Restoring the credibility of our vehicle regulations is not just about consumer trust and environmental integrity, it is sound industrial policy – it’s alarming the car industry doesn’t seem to understand this and opposes things like an independent EU testing agency.

Finally, aggressive pro-electric vehicle policies in the US (especially in California) and China, as well as the rise of Tesla, are forcing Europe's car industry to change the way it thinks about electrification. Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW and Renault are just a few of the companies that now plan for big sales of electric cars in the 2020s. We need to create a regulatory framework that gives carmakers and suppliers the confidence that this is the right direction and one that will be supported over a longer time period. A European low emission vehicle mandate or quota would do exactly that.

All of this adds up to a huge opportunity for Europe to reclaim global automotive leadership. The Commission is preparing two big mobility packages in 2017. If the Commission gets the balance of these packages right, this will be hugely beneficial for the environment, European citizens and our car industry. As for the Americans… they can play catch up again in four years' time when hopefully they'll have a sane president again.

Read the rest of T&E's February Bulletin.

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William Todts's picture

Executive Director

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