EU negotiators on Monday evening (17 December) agreed on CO2 emission rules for cars and vans, as the Austrian presidency of the EU defied expectations and brokered a compromise.
But the deal has already been branded as both “insufficient” by green campaigners and “unrealistic” by the car industry.
According to an agreement reached by the European Parliament and the 28 EU member states late last night, CO2 emissions from new cars will have to decrease by 37.5% by 2030 and 31% for vans.
The European Commission had originally proposed a 30% reduction rate for both vehicle types, while Parliament went in search of 40% cuts.
The target will be calculated based on 2021 emission levels, with an intermediary step of 15% CO2 cut for both cars and vans to be reached by 2025.
Commission energy chiefs welcomed the deal. Miguel Arias Cañete called the new benchmarks “ambitious targets” and said “Europe is once again showing how to turn the Paris Agreement and COP24 into action”.
Energy Union boss Maroš Šefčovič called it a “credible step in the implementation of the Paris Agreement but also another decisive step in support of the long-term competitiveness of European industry, as this will spur investment into the EU value chain, including batteries and other key technologies”.
Last night’s agreement draws a line under what have been bumpy talks between negotiators, as clear divisions quickly appeared over how strict the limits should be.
Germany showed its cards first by backing the Commission’s 30% proposal, in what was seen as a clear attempt to protect its massive car sector from disruption. Germany warned tough targets and the drive towards more electric cars could harm its €423 billion auto industry and cost jobs.
But more progressive nations like the Netherlands and France came out fighting for more.
“This is an important signal in our fight against climate change,” said current EU president Austria’s Sustainability Minister Elisabeth Koestinger.
Austria’s presidency of the EU attracted heavy criticism from policymakers and activists in equal measure for its failure to broker a deal earlier in the year.
EU sources had told EURACTIV that the presidency failed to change its compromise proposals between trilateral talks and that there was a danger that no agreement would be reached before the end of the year.
But enough common ground was found to agree on the overall targets, limiting double counting of plug-in hybrids and setting up a system that will ensure emission reductions on the road match those in the lab.
MEPs had wanted to introduce a penalty for carmakers that miss their targets but that fell by the wayside during the talks. Marques that do not mass produce vehicles will be exempt from the rules until 2028.
Now MEPs and the Council will have to sign off on the agreement. Talks are ongoing on the EU’s first attempt to regulate CO2 emissions for heavy vehicles, although there are still doubts that there will be a final deal before the European elections in May 2019.
Clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment welcomed the agreement but warned that it is still not enough to meet the bloc’s current 2030 climate targets, not to mention the Paris Agreement goals.
"The 37.5% cut by 2030 is an improvement on the very weak Commission proposal of just 30%," T&E said in a statement. "For consumers the new law means there will be much greater choice in affordable, fuel-efficient and electric models," it added.
Still, T&E regretted that the European Parliament's "excellent proposal" to penalise carmakers for failing to supply sufficient zero and low-emission vehicles (malus) was blocked by Council and the Commission. Still, it rejoiced that "the Council’s worst proposals such as giving very generous credits to plug-in-hybrids were limited during negotiation."
On the flip side, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) only “took note” of the agreement and highlighted “serious concerns about the highly challenging CO2 targets”.
In a statement, the group added that a 37.5% target might “sound plausible but [it] is totally unrealistic based on where we stand today”. Meeting the targets "will require a much stronger market uptake of electric and other alternatively-powered vehicles than is currently proving possible,” it said, calling on the 28 member states and the European Commission to ensure "all the enabling conditions are in place", notably the required investments in infrastructure.
ACEA reiterated earlier warnings that the targets would have a “seismic impact on jobs” and called on policymakers to "act swiftly by presenting concrete plans to manage this employment and skills transition in a proper, socially-acceptable way."
The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament deplored "the lack of ambition shown by political leaders to take the necessary measures to address climate change". However, he also congratulated the European Parliament for gaining greater emissions reduction targets for cars than originally envisaged and limiting proposed credits for plug-in hybrids.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) welcomed the deal, saying it is "an important milestone to lower the cost of driving," with projected fuel savings for drivers of "up to €1,000 over the next decade".
“Currently, there are only a small number of low-emission cars, such as electric ones, on the market. Today’s decision on CO2 targets for cars should push manufacturers to put more models of these vehicles in their showrooms. This is a good development," said Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC. "Only with more low-emission cars on the market can consumers make a meaningful choice whether an electric, hybrid or more fuel-efficient conventional car is the best option for their daily needs,” she said in a statement.