Let’s get real with car emissions

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

Cities encourage cycling to reduce air pollution from vehicles. [Franklin Heijnen/Flickr]

We are doing our bit to protect air quality in our cities, but real improvements will only come with tougher emissions standards, writes Anna Lisa Boni.

Anna Lisa Boni is the secretary general of EUROCITIES.

In cities, we take air quality seriously. It’s what makes our cities attractive places to live, and is crucial for our quality of life and local economic development. But without proper car emissions testing, the air we breathe in our cities will never be clean.

Recent revelations of emissions cheating in the US only serve to highlight the problem. We’re hopeful though that this will be a wakeup call on this side of the Atlantic to start cutting car emissions properly. Current testing in Europe is insufficient and car emissions on the road are poorly controlled.

We’re doing our bit in cities. We’re encouraging people to walk and cycle, we’re improving public transport and urban freight logistics, and we have introduced low emissions zones and supported cleaner heating systems and more energy efficient buildings. But it’s not enough. The air in our cities is still too polluted, more polluted than EU legislation allows.

The problem is that EU emissions tests are out of date and are not reflective of real-life driving conditions, especially the type of stop-start driving we do in cities. Even without illegal manipulations, real world nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from cars on the road can be up to six or seven times over the official limit. That is why we need the EU to put in place the new, more realistic Real Driving Emissions (RDE) tests by 2017, which has been in the pipeline for years. We cannot risk this being watered down through excessive ‘conformity factors’ that would allow far higher emissions in reality than the current Euro 6 standard prescribes.

There is another lesson to be learnt from the recent events. It’s not enough to test the emissions of a single sample vehicle and then approve the sale of millions of the same type. We need additional spot checks on vehicles in use. We can’t afford for emissions control systems not to work properly, whether it be down to fraud or simply wear and tear.

Of course, better car emissions controls alone are not going to solve all our problems. National policies must get stricter, including on fuel and vehicle taxation and on agriculture. As cities we will continue to do our bit too.

But we can’t do it without cleaner vehicles. So let’s make sure emissions legislation delivers in reality, not just on paper. We owe it to everyone who lives and works in cities. 

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