Green cars legislation faces ‘dilution’, says Irish presidency

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Tough new EU carbon dioxide emissions targets for cars are facing "dilution" due to heavy pushback from member states with strong auto-industry lobbies, such as Germany, according to an Irish presidency source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity at a press briefing on 16 January.

“A lot of member states have automotive plants and facilities, the motor industry tends to be well respected by member states, and the fact we have two German rapporteurs [in the European Parliament] may result in the commission’s proposals being diluted,” the source said, in response to a question by EURACTIV.

Passenger cars account for around 12% of total EU carbon emissions and unlike other sectors covered by emissions legislation, the figure is rising.

Last year the European Commission posted plans for an industry-wide emissions limit of 95 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) per car by 2020, with a commitment to set new goals for 2025 and 2030 before the end of 2014. 

The proposed legislation was well received, with Dublin calling it “extremely well-balanced”. It is now being examined by the European Parliament, which appointed its environment committee to steer the legislation through the House.

But the committee's draft report, circulated this week, calls for softening the law's impact on the car industry.

Its explanatory statement by Thomas Ulmer, a German Christian Democrat MEP and the dossier's rapporteur, says that measures in a Commission cost curve to allow higher emissions by heavier vehicles do not go far enough.

"As, however, it is larger vehicles that generally play a pioneering role in vehicle technology, the rapporteur feels compelled to propose a realistic system of incentives, which will promote the development and use of new, less environmentally damaging propulsion concepts," Ulmer states in his draft report.

Super credits

One key incentive involves expanding 'super credits' for low-emitting vehicles, a measure of their contribution to manufacturers’ overall CO2 fleet targets. Such credits are intended to incentivise fuel efficient vehicle production – and partially offset the assumed costs to car makers of meeting EU low carbon goals.

The current proposals would allow manufacturers to count low-carbon vehicles – such as electric cars – which emit less than 50g of CO2 per km (g/km) as 3.5 passenger vehicles in 2012 and 2013, 2.5 in 2014, 1.5 in 2015 and then 1 from 2016 onwards.

But the Ulmer report advocates inflating the technically-worded multiplier to 2.5 passenger vehicles from 2014-2017, and 2 vehicles from 2018-2020.  Ulmer also proposes a push-back of the deadline by which car manufacturers can claim super credits for low-emitting cars from 2016 to 2023.

Presidency sources expect additional proposals for the number of eligible cars in each firm’s fleet to be increased from 20,000 to 100,000.

Raised CO2 limits

Greenpeace say the report’s recommendations would effectively raise the EU’s  95g/km limit to 108g/km.  

“In reality these measures are designed to allow car makers to continue business as usual in exchange for sales of a handful of clean cars,” Greenpeace’s EU transport policy spokeswoman Franziska Achterberger told EURACTIV.

“It would allow them to massively overshoot the emission target," she added.

The Ulmer report’s ideas closely mirror proposals set out in a November 2012 position paper by the German automobile manufacturers association, the VDA, which EURACTIV has seen. The VDA report also calls for the EU’s super-credits multiplier to be escalated to 2.5 passenger vehicles in 2016-2017 and 2 vehicles from 2018-2020.  

Current EU proposals provide “no incentive effect” for manufacturers to invest in electric vehicles, the paper says.  

Banking and borrowing

Like Ulmer’s report, the VDA’s also pitches a 2023 end date for spending ‘banked’ credits from the coming period.

‘Banking and borrowing’ low carbon gains “would have the effect of making it easier for manufacturers to achieve the targets,” the presidency source said.

The idea was pioneered by the UK in negotiations over the energy efficiency directive, allowing them a claimed 60% reduction in the amount of energy savings they had to make.

The climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard spoke out firmly against such a loophole being applied to the CO2 in cars legislation at a meeting of the EU's environment ministers last December, arguing that it would “significantly undermine” the proposals.

Most worryingly for environmentalists, the Ulmer report calls for a decision on future targets to be postponed from 2014 to 2017.

Beefed up legislative pitch

However, another European Parliament report – an opinion provided for the industry committee by the Liberal MEP Fiona Hall – argues for beefing up the current legislation with a 70g/km target for 2025.

Hall contends that this would create 110,000 new jobs by 2030 and cites a 2012 AEA-Ricardo study which concluded such a target could be met with a fleet of just 7% “ultra low-emission vehicles” and around 20% hybrids.

That paper was jointly commissioned by Greenpeace and the green think tank Transport and Environment.

Hall’s report also calls for ditching super-credits in favour of an alternative scheme to promote ultra-low emission cars, and strengthening the regulation by requiring the EU to develop a ‘World Light Duty Test’, currently being fleshed out under a UN rubric.

“There are proposals to weaken and strengthen the Commission's proposal,” Achterberg commented. “It is too early to say what the final outcome will be.”

Consulting car makers

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) is currently consulting its members on the EU legislation, which it views as “extremely challenging”.

A statement put out by ACEA’s secretary-general, Ivan Hodac, when the proposals were adopted described them as “tough targets – the toughest in the world”, and flagged concerns about competitiveness, and increased manufacturing costs.

But consumers would benefit from the proposed EU statute as it stands by recouping potential increase in manufacturing costs within three years, according to the European Consumers Organisation, BEUC.

“Meeting the 95 g CO2/km standard in 2020 would lead to significant fuel savings for consumers,” Monique Goyens, BEUC’s director told EURACTIV in an emailed statement.

“The average European motorist buying a new car could benefit from fuel savings of between €344 and €465 each year,” she said.

A statement sent to EURACTIV by the European Aluminium Association said: “The calculation method to reach the targets should be reviewed to ensure technological neutrality while giving the visibility car manufacturers are asking for. We believe that the approach of the European Commission of keeping “business as usual” is both short-sighted and unfair. Indeed, the current proposals maintain the mass-based calculation method allowing heavier vehicles to emit more. By instead basing the CO2 target on the car’s footprint (size), manufacturers would get the full CO2 credit for any efficiency improvement, including making vehicles lighter.  Reducing weight is one of the most straight forward ways to reduce the energy consumption and hence also the CO2 emissions of a car.”

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. Under today's Cars Regulation, the fleet average to be achieved by all new cars is 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g/km) by 2015 – with the target phased in from 2012 - and 95g/km by 2020. 

The regulation is currently undergoing amendment in order to implement the 2020 target. A White Paper on Transport, presented by the Commission in February 2011, flagged measures to raise the €1.8 trillion which the EU says is needed for infrastructure investment in the next 20 years.

Proposals published in 2012 have set a further target of 95g for new passenger cars by 2020, and 147 g/km for vans. By the end of 2014, new targets could be announced for 2025 and 2030.

  • 24 April 2013: European Parliament’s environment committee to vote on CO2 in cars proposals
  • May 2013: European Parliament committee vote on CO2 in Vans
  • 2014: Proposed deadline for EU decision on 2025/2030 targets
  • 2015: 130 grams of CO2 per km target to be enforced across Europe
  • 2020: Proposed deadline for 95g/km target for cars
  • 2025: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050
  • 2030: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050

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