Cars and CO2


With automobile manufacturers expected to miss their voluntary commitments made last year to reduce CO2 emissions, the European Commission has proposed new binding legislation. Amid pressure from the car industry, which currently finds itself weighed down by economic recession, a compromise deal on the new laws was struck in December 2008.

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Cars account for around 20% of total European emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. 

In 1995, EU heads of state and government set themselves the ambitious goal of reducing emissions of CO2 from new cars to 120 grams per kilometre (g/km) by 2012 as a measure to combat climate change. This corresponds to fuel consumption of 4.5 litres per 100km for diesel cars and 5 litres/100km for petrol cars. 

The European Commission's strategy was mainly based on voluntary commitments from the car industry, which promised to gradually improve the fuel efficiency of new vehicles. Other strategies, such as raising awareness among consumers and influencing demand through fiscal measures, were also expected to contribute to the overall goal.

The 1998 voluntary agreement between ACEA (the European Automobile Manufacturers Association) and the Commission included a commitment by carmakers to achieve a target of 140g/km by 2008. Japanese and Korean car producers, represented by JAMA and KAMA, made a similar commitment for 2009. 

Although significant progress was made, average emissions only fell from 186g/km in 1995 to 161g/km in 2004. The Commission therefore decided that the voluntary commitments would not achieve their target and binding legislation was necessary. 

The presentation of the Commission's new strategy, on 7 February 2007 (EurActiv 07/02/07), was preceded by heavy lobbying from both the car industry and green NGOs alike. The German car industry, which is the world's global leader in heavy luxury cars (with higher CO2 emissions), made strident efforts to convince its government to intervene in the development of the new strategy. As a result of these lobbying efforts, the strategy's presentation was twice postponed over serious divisions within the EU executive's own services (EurActiv 22/01/07). 

Similar pressures surrounded the publication of the Commission's subesequent proposed regulation, which was finally presented on 20 December 2007. The proposal contains detailed measures for reaching the 120g/km objective by 2012.