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17th Oct 2021

New Commission CO2 rules for cars include some 'leeway'

  • The CO2 reduction target is mandatory, and will result in sanctions if missed (Photo: Oscar Sutton)

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday (8 November) that cars should emit 30 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2030 compared to 2021 - but said that under certain conditions carmakers will be allowed to miss the target.

The complex proposal ties the CO2 reduction target to an incentive mechanism to increase the European production of electric cars. Confusingly, both involve the figure 30 percent.

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  • No less than four EU commissioners presented the proposal (Photo: European Commission)

If a car manufacturer has increased its share of low emission vehicles in its fleet to more than 30 percent by 2030, it will receive credits that it can use if it is unable to meet the 30 percent CO2 reduction target.

"This leeway is what we have in the context of our regulation. … Manufacturers react only when they get something in return," an EU official told journalists on Wednesday in a briefing, under the condition that the official's name would not be mentioned.

The 30 percent low emission vehicles share is not a target, but a 'benchmark', which is not mandatory. The CO2 reduction target is mandatory, and will result in sanctions if missed.

To make sure that carmakers do not abuse the credit system and end up with a set of highly-polluting cars with combustion engines – offset by a large share of electric vehicles – the credit system may only be used to offset up to 5 percentage points of the CO2 target.

The commission has also proposed a 15 percent CO2 reduction target for 2025, and a 15 percent benchmark for low emission vehicles.

Not ambitious enough

Regardless of the offsetting possibility, many environmental groups and left-wing politicians were quick to say the 30 percent CO2 reduction goal itself was not ambitious enough.

According to Transport & Environment, a green lobby group, there should be a 45 percent reduction target for cars, while the centre-left Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt said in a statement that the target for 2030 should have been at least 40 percent.

Her Dutch Green colleague Bas Eickhout said the targets "need to be at very least doubled". He said in a statement that he expected German car lobbyists "will be happy today".

Car industry groups however did not express jubilation publicly.

Acea, which represents European automobile manufacturers, said that 30 percent is "overly challenging" but that a 20 percent target would be "achievable at a high, but acceptable, cost".

The European Association of Automotive Suppliers said a target between 20 and 25 percent would be "feasible".

Like with a previous CO2 target for 2020, there was heavy lobbying ahead of the publication of the commission proposal.

A leaked letter by Germany's outgoing centre-left foreign affairs minister Sigmar Gabriel to EU commissioner for climate Miguel Arias Canete called for less ambitious targets.

"For sure some member states have asked for more ambition, but there are other member states who have asked for less ambition," said Canete at a press conference on Wednesday.

He added "we will see what happens" in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, where national governments meet. The two institutions' consent is required for the targets to become law, and an intensive battle to change the targets can be expected.

Meanwhile, there are indications that several carmakers will face difficulties in achieving the 2021 target: to have maximum emissions of 95 grammes CO2 per kilometre.

A report by consultancy firm PA said in a forecast that only four of eleven carmakers are likely to achieve their targets.

It said Hyundai-Kia, Peugeot-Citroen, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen, Ford, BMW, and Daimler would all overshoot the targets.

The report said some companies could face sanctions of up to €1 billion.

Analysis

EU transport sector has a CO2 problem

Although car manufacturers are reaching their CO2 targets for their fleets, car usage has gone up in Germany, while the gap between lab results and actual fuel consumption has increased.

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.

German ministries were at war over CO2 car cuts

Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel was not the only German government official trying to water down an EU draft bill on CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles last year. In fact, three Berlin ministries were contradicting each other behind the scenes.

Commission 'non-paper' on car CO2 levels backfires

The European Commission published additional information on its proposal for new regulations on cars' CO2 levels - a week before the European Parliament was due to vote on it. Lead MEP Miriam Dalli is not amused.

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