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Car makers gear up for next round of CO2 emission cuts


Car makers gear up for next round of CO2 emission cuts

The Nissan Leaf is the world's best selling highway-capable all-electric car ever.

[Daremoshiranai / Flickr]

As the EU prepares for tough negotiations on reducing CO2 emissions from cars post-2020, industry lobbyists, green campaigners and the European Commission alike seem to agree on one thing: deeper emission cuts from road transport will require a more “holistic” approach.

Just what “holistic” means is still subject to discussion, however.

On June 18, the European Commission will fire the starting gun on the next round of talks to reduce emission from the road transport sector.

A formal legislative proposal on reducing car’s CO2 emissions will not be tabled before 2016 but lobbyists of all kinds are already lining up their arguments.

For carmakers, the matter is clear: cutting CO2 beyond the 95 grams per kilometre currently required by 2020 will call for “a comprehensive approach” that looks at other things than mere fuel efficiency improvements.

It means looking at the whole range of alternative fuels – including electric and others – but also connectivity aspects and the renewal of Europe’s gas-guzzling fleet of old vehicles, according to Erik Jonnaert, the Secretary General of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).

“Clearly fuel option is going to be big, and fleet renewal is really going to be a big one,” Jonnaert told EurActiv in an interview. “But we are really surprised by the impact of eco-driving, which is not only about the drivers’ behaviour but also the technologies to support them,” he said.

Another aspect ACEA is looking into is road infrastructure. “If you have two identical cars, emissions would be very different depending on the road you use,” Jonnaert pointed out.

>> Read the full interview with Erik Jonnaert: ACEA boss: Even a zero-emission target will fail to address car’s CO2

The “comprehensive approach” argument from the auto industry is hardly new. During previous rounds of CO2 talks, in 2008, carmakers won concessions to complement vehicle technology improvements with other measures, such as better tyres, more efficient air conditioning systems, and the use of biofuels.

For environmental campaigners, this all sounds too familiar.

“If you read ACEA’s position on this, what they actually mean by holistic is ‘everyone else does something but we don’t’,” says Greg Archer form Transport & Environment, a green campaign organisation. “So they don’t want a holistic approach, they just don’t want to do anything,” Archer told EurActiv.

According to T&E, the heavy lifting in terms of CO2 reduction has to come from car and truck emission standards, with firm targets set for 2025.

Jonnaert, for his part, does not deny that CO2 targets have driven improvements in fuel efficiency.

“Clearly, the targets have helped move in the right direction, that’s true. The question is how far can you keep moving. In the beginning, targets made it possible to optimise combustion engines. Then, you had to invest in alternative fuel cars. Now, theoretically, if we want to go further down, we will have to get more out of alternative fuel cars. This means mainly electric cars, but also hydrogen, natural gas – the whole portfolio,” Jonnaert says.

Archer agrees although he strongly dismisses claims that emission cuts beyond 95g/km cannot happen without a shift to electric mobility. “That’s nonsense. Technologies are coming forward all the time,” he said, citing further hybridisation, lower vehicle weights, and alternative fuels.

Holistic approach needed to tackle transport emissions

Where Archer and Jonnaert do agree, however, is that a holistic approach will be needed to tackle CO2 emissions from the transport sector as a whole – beyond the private vehicle.

As a sector currently not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), road transport – together with agriculture and buildings – is being asked to reduce its emissions by 30% compared to 2005 levels. The target is part of the EU’s climate and energy policy for 2030, which aims to reduce the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (compared to 1990).

According to Archer, fuel efficiency improvements alone won’t be enough, as these are only expected to account for around 40% of emissions cuts required from the road transport sector.

“That leaves 60% that needs to be delivered via other measures, like reducing speed limits, encouraging people not to use their cars for short journeys and making use of public transport when appropriate,” Archer told EurActiv.

“Undoubtedly, technology and regulation cannot deliver the whole solution,” Archer admits. “But it is also true that without 2025 targets, you cannot deliver the EU’s 2030 climate goals. So regulation has to be complemented by other measures.”

Commission also wants ‘holistic approach’

Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s Climate Action and Energy Commissioner, also says he wants “a holistic approach” to reducing transport emissions.

This, he said, means “not just tackling CO2 emissions from cars, but analysing how we can deal with the transport sector as a whole, assessing how electro-mobility is going to be deployed, roads, etc”.

Nothing is decided at this stage as the Commission has not yet launched its public consultation. But Cañete said a few principles were already clear.

“First, there will be new targets post-2020,” Cañete told a group of Brussels-based journalists on Thursday (28 May), saying this will be decided only after a thorough impact assessment of the expected costs and benefits. “Second, we want technological neutrality, with new fuel efficiency standards according to a new test cycle.”

Asked by EurActiv to clarify what he means by ‘holistic’, the Commissioner responded, “The holistic approach is that we are asking the road transport sector as a whole to contribute to the reduction of emissions. That means fuel quality, biofuels, road infrastructure, deployment of electro-mobility and a lot of other things.”

He said the proposal on CO2 from cars will be closely coordinated with other Commissioners – Ms Bie?kowska, Ms Bulc, Mr Vella – in charge respectively of industry, transport and the environment, so it won’t be just a climate initiative. “It has to be well coordinated, also with the reform of the ETS and the goal of raising the share of industrial activity to 20% of the EU’s GDP,” Cañete stressed.

Calm before the storm

Heat on policymarkers is expected to turn up as soon as actual emission targets are put on the table, during the course of 2016.

When the current 95g/km targets were approved, EU officials recall with anxiety that German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not hesitate to pick the phone to make sure the demands of the German car industry were met.

>> Read: Germany went ‘rogue’ to freeze green cars law, say diplomats

Cañete is aware that negotiations can take a nasty turn, telling journalists that “new CO2 emission standards for cars will be the most complicated negotiation for us, along with the revision of the ETS directive”.

Asked whether he expected to receive calls from Germany, he remained cool. “I don’t have pressure yet because at the moment there is no post-2020 target. But the pressure will come.”

For example, he said carmakers that do not have electric vehicles within their range of products “may face difficulties”.

But he also said objectives on electric mobility needed to remain realistic. “We have to take into account the development of infrastructure. We cannot take for granted that 10% of transport will be electric, like in some Nordic countries. “


Passenger cars are responsible for around 12% of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.

In 2007, the EU proposed legislation setting emission performance standards for new cars, which was adopted in 2009 by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.

The Cars Regulation set the average fleet emissions to be achieved by all new cars at 130 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) by 2015 – with the target phased in from 2012.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Cars and CO2

Proposals published in 2012 set further targets of 95g for new passenger cars by 2020, and 147 g/km for vans.

Germany then pressured ministers to weaken the target. This resulted in "super credits" being granted for low emission vehicles.

>> Read: MEPs back fuel-efficiency plan for cars, including 'super-credits'


  • By 2015: Deadline for carmakers to meet the 130g/km target
  • 18 June 2015: Commission organises stakeholder conference on transport and CO2
  • By end 2015: Commission to launch a public consultation on reducing CO2 emissions from transport, including impact assessment studies
  • 30 Nov.-11 Dec.: UN climate conference (COP 21) in Paris
  • 2016: Legislative proposals expected to come out on CO2 targets post-2020
  • By 2021: Deadline to meet 95g/km target for new cars

Further Reading