Berlin divided over cars’ CO2 limits, hindering EU decision

In 2016, Germany emitted 909.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2016, that is 2.6 million tonnes higher than 2015. Emissions from the transport sector amounted to 166.8 million tonnes. [Lana Elcova]

The German parliament, the Bundestag, is hosting a public hearing on Wednesday (27 June) on the European Commission’s proposal on cars’ CO2 emission limits for 2025/30 in a bid to find a consensus between the different ministries.

“At the moment, you find the environment and finance ministries on the one side, the transport and economy ministries on the other side and no one really knows when there will be a decision,” Peter Mock, managing director at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), told EURACTIV.

“In Brussels, the positioning of Germany is urgently expected, otherwise no progress is possible and the adoption of a regulation before the next EU election in danger,” he explained.

Mock is among the nine participants who were invited to take part in the public hearing and present their analysis to the representatives of the Bundestag. It was research from the ICCT which first exposed the defeat devices on emissions tests used by German carmaker Volkswagen.

Fear for the German automobile industry

The German environment ministry said it is necessary to increase the level of ambition for cars’ CO2 by reducing emissions to -50% by 2030 and -25% by 2025 if the country were to reach its climate protection targets.

Mock underlined that this proposal was more ambitious than that of the European Commission: The EU executive has proposed to reduce car and light commercial vehicle emissions by 30% by 2030, and by 15% by 2025, compared to 2021 levels.

The finance ministry expressed its support because it fears Germany will have to pay a fine for not meeting its CO2-reduction target, he specified. Both ministries are led by social-democrats, respectively by Svenja Schulze and Olaf Scholz.

But transport minister Andreas Scheuer from the conservative Bavarian CSU party called the tighter limits “arbitrary” and said they risked to “obliterate Europe’s most important industry,” an argument also highlighted by the economy ministry led by the CDU’s Peter Altmaier.

According to official statistics, the German car industry employs more than 800,000 people. In terms of turnover, it is the largest manufacturing sector, with sales reaching €400 billion in 2015.

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At a meeting of climate ministers in Berlin on Tuesday (19 June), the German chancellor stressed the importance of re-training to help people take part in a greener economy.

Relevant contribution

Commenting on the situation in Germany at the meeting of EU environment ministers on Monday (25 June), Svenja Schulze said Berlin did not yet find an agreement for 2030. “But the automobile sector has to make a relevant contribution,” she insisted.

The environment minister said the aim of her proposal was to protect the climate and the competitiveness of the German industry and to make sure mobility remains an affordable good.

Chancellor Merkel once called the transport sector “our big problem child,” as it stubbornly remains one the country’s most emitting industrial sectors.

According to figures released on January 2018 by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), the transport sector emissions drove up Germany’s total greenhouse gas emissions for the second time in a row in 2016.

In 2016, Germany emitted 909.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2016, that is 2.6 million tonnes higher than in 2015. Emissions from the transport sector amounted to 166.8 million tonnes, mostly due to a higher share of road freight transport and rising registrations of private heavy vehicles.

Netherlands sees an opening for more ambitious car CO2 limits

The European Commission’s proposal for new car CO2 limits left many disappointed. But a spate of new governments in Europe – and shifting positions in Berlin – means those who want higher targets and an electric vehicle mandate have everything to play for.

But the Chancellor also rejected a quota for electric cars in Germany and in the EU, a position Peter Mock called inconsistent.

“From my point of view, a quota system would make sense, because it would give manufacturers planning certainty, and I find this position somewhat hypocritical since the government has long de facto decided to further promote electric mobility. Why does it not tell manufacturers how many e-cars need to be on the road at some point? That is inconsistent.”

He said electric cars have the potential to reduce fleet CO2 emission by 25/30% by 2025 and would save drivers around 1,000 euros compared to the use and maintenance of a conventional car. “Automobile manufacturers often emphasise the cost electric cars generate but they omit to underline the savings for customers.”

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European carmakers have invested seven times more in electric vehicle production lines in China than at home, according to industry figures collected by Transport & Environment (T&E), a green campaign group.

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