EU Commission is blinded by fake science

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Dick Roche [Georgi Gotev]

Much of the data on which the EU Commission bases its policy-making on reducing harmful emissions is fake, writes Dick Roche.

Dick Roche is a former Irish minister for environment, currently advisor for the Pannonia ethanol company of Hungary.

In so far as creating a viable EU policy for the road transport sector is concerned, the last ten years have been a lost decade.

After years of often acrimonious debate:-

  • Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from transport continue to increase and are likely to become the EU’s biggest GHG source.
  • Every year thousands die from the effects of Europe’s diesel exhausts while cities regularly face the miseries of smog.
  • Politically well-connected lobbies abetted by a handful of vociferous NGOs have managed to distort what should be a fact-based policy debate to the point where fantasy and distortion determine policy.
  • Europe imports diesel to meet artificially boosted demand while exporting surplus petrol.
  • The European ethanol sector that provides clean energy has been dramatically undermined.
  • Jobs, investment and development in rural areas have been lost, as have increased supplies of GMO-free DDGS (Corn Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles) animal feed.
  • Opportunities to make Europe less dependent on fossil fuel imports and virtually self sufficient in animal protein have been squandered

European policymakers have ended up with an energy tax system that favours the dirtiest fuels, a tailpipe emissions system that is a wreck, little or nothing on traffic efficiencies and a neutered biofuel industry.  And we now learn that much of the data on which policy makers depended is fake.

These realities and the Volkswagen scandal raise uncomfortable questions about how well equipped the EU Commission is to handle a complex multi-faceted policy area with its ‘silo structure’. Following the call by the EU Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee for the introduction of real life testing and other changes, MEPs were right when they concluded that emission laws that reflect reality are preferable to rules built on fantasy.

The same is true of energy taxes: a fuel taxation system built on fantasy cannot be allowed to stand. The fuel tax system is the ultimate example of the “environmentally harmful subsidies” that the Commission pledged to end in its 2011 Roadmap. The fact that diesel remains the most lightly taxed road transport fuel in Europe, while ethanol, which is infinitely cleaner, is the most heavily taxed is perverse.

So what can be done and how can the policy mess be resolved?

To its credit, the Commission did attempt to amend the Energy Taxation Directive. The proposals were shot down in the Council by a small minority of Member States, led by Luxembourg. That decision needs to be reversed. Member State motor registration taxes also need to be restructured removing the pro-diesel bias. Tilting the system towards petrol over say a five-year period could produce a gradual rebalancing of the EU car fleet.

Secondly, EU wide implementation of E10 and then E20 (fuel that is 20% ethanol and 80% petrol) needs to be rolled out.  Major and positive change could be brought about if E20 were to become the EU standard.  With E20, there is no argument but that a positive trade-off between urban air quality and climate concerns could be achieved.

Third, and critically, the EU must create a stable regulatory environment. The U-turns on biofuels did major damage: investment proposals were shelved and investor confidence disappeared. One industry leader has accused the Commission of having created a ‘zombie industry’. A regulatory environment that expires in a little over four years will not create the investor confidence needed to invest in any form of large scale climate mitigation projects whether through production or innovation in renewable fuels.

These are practical and sensible solutions. Importantly they don’t contradict simultaneous expansion of worthwhile efforts to promote electric vehicles, or efforts to work towards getting internal combustion engines off Europe’s roads by 2050, and they make it much more likely that Euro 6 standards will actually be respected.

Reluctant as the mandarins may be revisit a messy policy file that has been closed maybe the key players in the Commission could grit their teeth and get on with just that. 

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