Netherlands sees an opening for more ambitious car CO2 limits

This week an internal position paper from the German environment ministry was leaked to the media showing that the ministry is calling for a 50% cut by 2030, and a 25% cut by 2025. [Andrew Gustar / Flickr]

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.

When the European Commission put forward its proposal for new car CO2 limits for after 2020 in November, it was not what climate advocates – and many governments – wanted to see.

Mayors of nine EU capitals, including Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid, Brussels and Sofia, had written to the Commission the previous month calling for a high target and a mandate for vehicle makers to produce a minimum number of electric vehicles – as exists in California and China. They got neither.

The Commission proposed a 30% cut to CO2 emissions from cars by 2030, far lower than the 50% many were calling for. They also declined to set an electric vehicle mandate, saying they preferred a technology neutral approach.

The reality was that consultations with national governments clearly showed that a higher target or a mandate would be non-starters in the Council of 28 EU member states, who would inevitably lower the target and remove the mandate.

The opposition was particularly staunch from the German government, where the country’s powerful auto industry was furiously lobbying both Brussels and Berlin.

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Change is in the air

But things have changed since November. There are new governments in Italy, Spain and soon Slovenia. In Italy, the populist Five Star Movement, the majority partner in the new coalition government, has been supportive of electric vehicle mandates. As has the new Socialist-led government in Spain.

But perhaps the biggest change of all has come from Berlin, where the new cabinet took office in March. This week an internal position paper from the German environment ministry was leaked to the media showing that the ministry is calling for a 50% cut by 2030, and a 25% cut by 2025.

The paper is part of an internal government consultation and the idea could still be killed by Germany’s economic or transport ministries. But given the Dieselgate headaches both of those ministries are still reeling from, they may be wary to take on the environment ministry.

More importantly, the leak has signalled to those calling for higher target that they may suddenly have a new ally in Berlin.

Dutch push

One of those calling for a higher target is the Dutch government, and they are sensing the moment is ripe for getting the co-legislators to strengthen the Commission’s proposal.

On Wednesday, The Netherlands hosted an event at the Dutch permanent representation to the EU presenting a new report from consultancy TNO showing a 50% target would be feasible and would result in a significant uptick in electric vehicle production.

Ronald van Roeden, the Netherlands Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, opened the event by noting the recent news from Germany and saying that the Netherlands is pushing for a more ambitious Council position.

The event was co-hosted with France and Luxembourg, which have also signalled backing for greater ambition on CO2 reduction in transport and electric mobility.

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Miriam Dalli, the Maltese MEP who is leading the file in the European Parliament, was among the speakers at the event. Dalli is also calling for a 50% target, along with a mandate for electric vehicles.

However, there is still significant pushback. Petr Dolejsi from ACEA, the European Automobile Industry Association, warned that the higher targets being talked about in the Parliament and in some governments would result in significant expenditure that would have to be passed on to customers.

ACEA believes the Commission’s 30% proposal is already too ambitious, saying a 20% target for 2030 would be more realistic.

A high target would mean that at least half of reductions would have to come from electric vehicles, ACEA says, and the market demand is not strong enough at the moment to get the EU to this goal.

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There is “no way” carmakers can hit the EU’s proposed CO2 emission targets with fuel combustion engines, argues Erik Jonnaert, saying “at least half” of the reduction will have to come from electric and hybrid vehicles.

EVs no market, or no marketing?

However, Julia Poliscanova from environmental campaign group Transport & Environment said at the event that consumer demand for electric vehicles is enormous, but automakers are dragging their feet.

T&E released a report on Wednesday accusing European automakers of deliberately not marketing electric vehicles to consumers, noting that they are still failing to achieve their own sales targets for battery electric and plug-in hybrid.

“While carmakers seek to blame a lack of recharging points and government incentives, market data obtained by T&E shows that for the second year running they spent miniscule amounts trying to sell electric vehicles – especially in markets where motorists are already willing to consider buying them,” she said.

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The rise of electric cars in Europe is being hampered by a lack of models for consumers to choose from rather than a lack of public recharging points, according to energy companies and carmakers. EURACTIV’s media partner, The Guardian, reports.

Carmakers only spend 1.5% of their advertising budgets on zero emission models, and 1.4% on plug-in hybrids, in the EU’s five largest car markets, data from marketing analytics specialists Ebiquity shows.

Yet around 30% of British, French and German consumers say they would consider buying an electric car today. In Norway – where four out of 10 cars sold in 2017 were battery or plug-in hybrids – manufacturers’ advertising spend on zero emission cars as a proportion was much higher at 10%.

Dimitri Vergne from European consumers association BEUC agreed, saying that the evidence of market demand for electric vehicles in Europe is significant and increasing. But without a mandate, Poliscanova said, the automakers will continue refusing to market their new electric vehicles – perhaps because they are trying to sell off their diesel vehicles first.

The environment committee is due to vote on Dalli’s report in the next few months. Work on the file in the Council will be taken up by the Austrian EU presidency, which begins on 1 July.

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