Diesel machines need the cleanest technology to relieve our choking cities

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

Non-road diesel engines are a major source of air pollution in European cities. [martin_vmorris_Flickr]

Implementing consistent emissions standards for all diesel engines would push manufacturers to use the best available technology and improve the EU’s air quality, argues François Cuenot.

François Cuenot is air quality policy officer at Transport & Environment.

As air pollution spikes in Europe’s cities prompt car-free days and talk of banning diesel cars, it’s easy to forget the other culprits behind the air quality crisis: diesel machines. Known in legislation by the innocuous term ‘non-road mobile machinery’, their air pollutant emission limits are now finally under revision.

The last directive dated back to 1997 and the new rules will set standards for decades to come. Air pollution is causing more than 450,000 premature deaths every year in Europe and a recent Eurobarometer survey confirmed that air pollution is now the biggest environmental concern of European citizens. Efficient regulation of emissions sources is therefore key to mitigating the exposure of citizens to air pollution.

In spite of the serious health threats, half of the EU member states are now subject to infringement proceedings from the European Commission for not respecting the already lax air quality standards set within the Ambient Air Quality Directive. There is, therefore, little margin for non-road mobile machinery and the new emissions limits should be ambitious and require the latest technologies available to clean up exhaust gases.

The text proposed by the Commission late in 2014 does make some progress towards lowering the emissions of particulate matter for some engine categories. It also widens the engine categories covered by the regulation in a bid to better harmonise with US standards. But the Commission proposal lacks the ambition to close the emissions gap between road and non-road engines. As a consequence, the Commission has put itself in a contradictory position. On the one hand, it wishes to favour modal shift away from trucks and towards trains and inland water vessels as part of its Transport White Paper to promote energy efficiency. On the other hand, the Commission proposes higher emission limits for trains and inland water vessels than the ones already enforced for trucks, hence increasing air pollution if this expected modal shift occurs.

There should not be a trade off between energy efficiency and air pollution, and the Commission should be more consistent and work towards a better harmonisation of all the work proposed. Emissions limits consistent between trucks, diesel trains and inland vessels would avoid this Commission contradiction.

The proposal for non-road mobile machinery is now under scrutiny from the European Council and Parliament. The draft report of the rapporteur was released on 12 May, and instead of ensuring lower pollutant emissions from these engines, the report focused only on giving more time to comply and provided an allowance to fit decade-old engines on existing and future machines. It is true that, despite numerous requests, the rapporteur did not find the time to listen to the views of non-governmental organisations that defend the health of European citizens.

The next emissions limits might represent a challenge for the non-road mobile machinery sector, yet they do not require the latest technologies (already deployed in other modes or in other countries) to be fitted. The best available technologies include closed particulate filters, NOx reduction catalysts and advanced engine management systems to drastically reduce emissions from heavy-duty internal combustion engines.

Transport & Environment is therefore calling for a non-binding emissions limit to be included in the proposal to offer manufacturers the possibility of putting machines on the market that use the best available technologies.

Such non-binding emissions limits have already been implemented in Europe as part of the 1999/96 directive setting Euro III/IV/V heavy-duty emissions limits. An enhanced environmentally friendly vehicle (EEV) non-binding emissions limit was introduced in the legislation that set limit values more ambitious than the Euro V limits that were to be enforced 10 years later. The EEV emissions limit offered bus and truck manufacturers a decade of technological advancement by fitting the best available latest technologies to their road vehicles. The EEV non-binding standard has been very successful with many fleet managers and transport operators; it offers them an officially-recognised standard so they can ensure they have the cleanest vehicles in their fleet. Manufacturers have been able to offer such EEV vehicles by adopting the best available technologies with reasonable premium costs.

Non-road mobile machinery also deserves to be fitted with the best available technologies and such non-binding advanced emissions limits should be implemented in the directive revision.

Clean diesel machines are needed now in densely populated areas and where the workers are exposed to exhaust emissions. We are therefore asking the European Parliament’s environment committee and all MEPs involved, as well as member states, to consider integrating such provisions in the text to provide hope for cleaner air in cities.

Subscribe to our newsletters