Sunday

9th May 2021

Rhetoric and reality on EU car emissions targets

  • What's in the tank? (Photo: European Commission)

As much as 17 percent of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions are the result of road transport, second only to the energy production in terms of emissions.

This is why strengthening the rules on reducing the carbon emissions from cars continues to be on the minds of EU lawmakers.

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Car companies are already required to meet a 2015 target of 130 grammes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre in the average emissions of new cars sold in the EU.

In June, MEPs and ministers went further, agreeing to back a 95 gramme target for 2020.

For its part, the European Parliament wants to go further still, with MEPs supporting a cut to 68-78 grammes by 2025.

However, there is still a gap between talking about cutting CO2 emissions, and implementing the rules that are designed to make it happen.

Last week, the German government persuaded a handful of other countries, including the UK and Poland, to give it more time to prepare plans to phase in the law, with a debate and a possible vote among EU environment ministers to take place in Luxembourg at the end of next week.

Germany's stalling tactics indicate it is anxious that its car industry - and particularly the high-end car-makers Daimler and BMW - will struggle to adapt to the new regime.

It also poses the question of whether there are alternative fuels that can be used to meet the targets.

One option was outlined last week.

A study by Eric Johnson, editor of Environmental Impact Assessment Review, indicates that liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) emits 11 percent less carbon than petrol, and far less nitrogen oxide than either diesel or petrol.

"We've generally known that autogas LPG is lower carbon than petrol, but this recent evidence proves it conclusively. Indeed, what had been a trickle of automotive emissions data has now turned into a flood in recent years," says Johnson, who recently presented his report at the World LPG congress in London.

Ironically, the evidence was taken from the testing information of 1,200 bio-fuelled cars supplied by car manufacturers to the German government between 2007 and 2012.

Johnson notes that the land-use involved in growing the crops has to be considered when calculating the emissions of biofuels, meaning that the carbon footprint is varied.

However LPG, together with natural gas fuels, are still too dirty for those with more ambitious carbon-cutting goals.

Another report, published in March by the US National Research Council, which details plans for an 80 percent emissions cut by 2050, says that biofuels, electricity and hydrogen should be the long-term replacement for petrol.

But the problem faced across the sector is the limited availability and prohibitive price of non-petrol and diesel consuming cars.

Despite being one of the most widely used alternative fuels, with 7 million LPG-powered cars across the EU, and over 20 car manufacturers offering the vehicles in their showrooms, the market share differs wildly from country to country.

In Italy, 1.5 million cars run on LPG, compared with 160,000 in the UK, despite the two countries having near identical populations.

Meanwhile, there are fewer than 50,000 electric powered cars in the world and just 650 cars running on hydrogen, according to the European Commission and the OECD, the Paris-based economic club.

Even though the US, China and the EU have plans - albeit ambitious ones - to put 6 million electric cars on the roads by 2020, the market is still at a nascent stage.

This, in turn, is the logic behind the EU executive's plan to establish minimum infrastructure targets, such as recharging points and filling stations for alternative fuels.

But, in short, there is no silver bullet for decarbonising transport.

Reaching the EU's most ambitious targets will take more time and a lot more money.

Germany gets its way on EU car emissions

EU environment ministers have caved in to German pressure and agreed to reopen a deal on capping car emissions, to the disappointment of climate change campaigners.

Volkswagen scandal may spill into Europe

France and UK call for EU-wide probe to see if German car maker cheated on pollution tests here too, but Commission says it's too early for the move.

Dim prospects for EU energy tax reform

The logic behind a European Commission's proposal on energy taxation is based on the concept of "fuel neutrality" but it could hurt alternative fuels the most.

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