Monday

18th Feb 2019

EU states let cars exceed pollution limits

  • The EU sets emission limits, but cars will be allowed to exceed them (Photo: EUobserver)

The Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal has done little to reduce the influence of the auto industry lobby, as EU countries on Wednesday (28 October) decided that diesel car makers will be allowed to exceed emission limits for 2017 and beyond.

As of 1 September 2017, cars will have to pass emission performance tests carried out on the road, as opposed to in laboratories. These lab tests have been discredited because the results were so far from reality, on average four times as high. Car manufacturers were equipping cars to pass the test, instead of reducing the emission of toxic gases.

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However, national governments decided that car makers should be given leeway to close the gap.

When the new so-called "real driving emissions" test comes into force in 2017, new diesel car models will be allowed to exceed pollution limits by a factor of 2.1. In other words, while the EU limit is 80 milligrams (mg) of nitrogen oxide per kilometre, cars will be allowed to emit 168 mg/km.

As of January 2020 and beyond, surpassing the limit by a factor of 1.5 will be accepted, or 120 mg/km.

According to media reports, the Netherlands was the only country that wanted to oblige new diesel models to conform to the EU limit. But France, Germany, and Italy – all countries with car industries – opposed strict conformity. Spain, Hungary, and Slovakia reportedly also favoured a watered-down approach.

'Shockingly cynical'

The decision, taken just over a month after it emerged Volkswagen had carried out widespread cheating on lab tests, was heavily criticised by several members of the European Parliament and civil society.

"This is a shockingly cynical move. Car manufacturers have failed to hit air pollution limits on diesel cars and instead of trying to sort the problem, they have been told: 'that's alright, we'll just lower the bar'", said ClientEarth, a British non-profit law organisation that focuses on air quality.

Greenpeace noted in a statement: "European governments are effectively rewarding the cheaters. Have they been on another planet these last few weeks?"

"This is a shameful stitch-up which once again puts the interests of carmakers ahead of people's health", said British MEP Catherine Bearder.

Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout called it a "scandalous and cynical decision".

"This new test is being marketed as a 'real driving emissions' test but it is a sham. It is instead a gift to car manufacturers who have made no effort to meet the EU's car pollution rules", noted Eickhout.

He also criticised the fact that the decision was taken through the so-called comitology procedure, which is a procedure where the European Parliament cannot change anything. It can only accept or reject the entire decision.

For its part, the European Commission defended the deal in a statement. It said “the allowed divergence ... is still a significant reduction compared to the current discrepancy”.

Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska noted "this is not the end of the story".

"We will complement this important step with a revision of the framework regulation on type-approval and market surveillance of motor vehicles. We are working hard to present a proposal to strengthen the type-approval system and reinforce the independence of vehicle testing", she said.

EU seeks more control on national car tests

The Volkswagen scandal has convinced the EU executive to seek greater powers. "We have to make sure this never happens again," said commissioner Katainen.

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