Cars and CO2

Road transport is now the largest and growing source of CO2 emissions in Europe, accounting for one-fifth of all emissions. One of the most important steps Europe can take to save drivers money, combat climate change, and create high-tech jobs is to require carmakers to produce more efficient, low and zero-emission vehicles. In 2009 and 2014 respectively, the EU introduced legally-binding CO2 standards, for the first time setting a goal that, on average, new cars sold in Europe in 2015 should emit 130 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, and 95gCO2/km in 2021. The first target was weak and met early, and most carmakers are also on track to meet the 2021 goal. Half the improvement, however, was not achieved in the real world but resulted from carmakers manipulating the obsolete NEDC test that has been replaced in September 2017 with a better laboratory cycle, the World Light Duty Test Procedure (WLTP).

However, with CO2 emissions from road transport increasing and the race for leading the e-mobility transition intensifying, the EU should urgently agree ambitious 2025 and 2030 CO2 reduction targets for new cars and vans. To be effective, the new CO2 targets should be accompanied by a specific sales target for zero emission vehicles as well as real-world CO2 tests.

What's happening?

In 2009, the EU set legally-binding targets for new cars to emit 130 grammes of CO2 per km by 2015 and 95g in 2020. Later in 2014, due to pressure from Germany in particular, the 95g target was postponed to 2021. These targets are based on the old test cycle (the New European Driving Cycle, or NEDC) which was developed more than 40 years ago and is now inadequate and outdated. This, together with targeted cycle beating, has led to serious test manipulation and resulted in the average gap between real-world and declared fuel efficiency of 42% in 2016. This means cars and vans emit, on average, 42% more emissions and use 42% more fuel in reality than the official certificates show. In consequence, by 2021 performance on the road is likely to average 139g/km – far higher than the 95g/km target. Find out more about the growing real-world fuel gap in T&E’s campaign ‘Get Real - Demand Fuel Figures you can trust’. 

The new test cycle, the World Light Duty Test Procedure (WLTP), entered into force in September 2017, but the transitional arrangements that allow some of the old flexibilities will apply until the new set of post-2020 CO2 standards is set. Separately, the additional arrangements to promote the introduction of very low and zero-emission vehicles, the so-called super-credits, have so far failed to accelerate the deployment of plug-in cars in Europe, which is lagging behind markets such as China and California.

Following the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the EU 2030 Climate and Energy policy, the EU has acknowledged that more ambitious emission reductions are required from the transport sector by 2030 for Europe to reach its climate goals. Cars like all other major sectors need to reduce their emissions to nearly zero by 2050 to be in line with the 2C scenario; the last internal combustion engine has thus to be sold around 2035. 

In this light, car and van CO2 standards are the cornerstone of this action, and post-2020 standards will be instrumental in order to achieve the necessary emission reduction across the EU single market.  The European Commission presented its proposal for the post-2020 CO2 standards in November 2017, proposing a 15% reduction in 2025 and 30% reduction in 2030 based on the 2021 levels. The change from absolute g/km targets in a percentage reduction has been proposed to accommodate the switch from the old NEDC to the new WLTP test cycle, as the absolute g/km vehicle values will not be known until the reporting done in 2021. The proposals are currently with the European Parliament and the Council of ministers for amendments and the new law is expected to be agreed in early 2019. 


Key statistics

EU total road transport emissions (2016) 20% (one-fifth) of EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions
Cars & Vans  
Share of emissions from cars & vans (2016) Approx. 14% of EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, or 70% of EU road transport emissions
EU policies to decarbonise cars

CO2 limits for new cars:
1.     an average of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g CO2/Km) by 2015

2.     95g by 2021

3. 15% CO2 reductions for 2025 and 30% reduction for 2030 currently discussed

Note: the average CO2 emissions from the new car fleet in 2017 were 118.5 gCO2/km

CO2 limits translated into fuel consumption

130g = 5.6 litres/100km (petrol)

95g = 4.1 litres/100km (petrol)

Cost saving of a 95 g CO2/km car for the average driver 

Around €250 a year, based on today’s pump prices and compared to 2015 CO2 target.
European oil imports In 2015 the EU imported oil equivalent to €215 billion – two-thirds of it for transport.
Car production in Europe (2017) 17m cars
Car registration in Europe (2017) 15.1m cars
Car exports (2017) 5.4m cars