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26th May 2019

Car lobby uses Brexit to dispute CO2 targets

  • Car lobby group Acea wants cars sold in the UK to count towards calculating CO2 performance, even after Brexit (Photo: EthelRedThePetrolHead)

The European Commission refused to comment on Tuesday (3 April) to the European car lobby's latest attempt to question CO2 reduction targets.

It told EUobserver it did not want to respond to the arguments provided in a position paper published last month by the Brussels-based European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (Acea).

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Acea said in the paper that despite Brexit, cars sold in the UK should be counted towards calculating the average CO2 emissions of manufacturers' fleets in 2020. If not, it said the commission "must review" the targets.

According to environmental campaigner Greg Archer, the lobby group was "desperate" to find a way for its members to avoid the hefty fines associated with missing the targets.

"Regrettably industry remains incapable of taking its environmental responsibilities seriously," Archer told EUobserver by email.

Fleet average

EU law states that by 2021 the average car should emit no more than 95 grammes of CO2 per driven kilometre, to reduce the negative impact driving has on the earth's climate.

Formally, the target is for 2020, but carmakers have received a 'phase-in period' of one year during which five percent of cars are allowed to miss the target.

The CO2 target will be calculated per company as a fleet average, including all its petrol, diesel, hybrid, and fully electric vehicles.

If a carmaker fails to meet its target, it would receive a fine of €95 per gramme per kilometre of excess emission per vehicle.

Last January, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said in an annual report that some carmakers still needed to make "considerable progress" to achieve the targets.

On average, new cars sold in the EU in 2016 emitted 118.1 grammes CO2/km - 1.5 gramme lower than in 2015.

Potential fines over €1bn

Days before the EEA report came out, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said his company wanted to achieve the CO2 goal, but that not all factors were under its control.

"I can't guarantee we will be compliant," he said according to the FT newspaper.

Last year, the PA Consulting company estimated that Volkswagen, BMW, Hyundai-Kia, Fiat Chrysler, Peugeot-Citroen and Ford were likely to miss their targets. It said that some companies could face fines of over €1bn.

Brexit

The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the EU in March 2019, before the compliance date of the CO2 rules.

However, Acea wants cars sold in the UK to count towards the fleet average – because hybrid and electric cars are popular there.

"Compliance with the highly challenging limits set by European Union for 2020, was based on data from all 28 member states," said Acea secretary-general Erik Jonnaert at a recent press briefing in Brussels.

"So excluding UK data from the CO2 calculations will force manufacturers to reassess long-held fleet average targets based on the EU-28 data," he added.

Jonnaert stressed there was a difference in popularity of low-emission vehicles between western and eastern European countries.

"It just happens to be that in some markets – and this includes the UK, it's not only the UK obviously – you have a market environment which facilitates the uptake of these alternative power trains, which of course then makes it easier to reach your targets," he said.

"We are asked to produce the vehicles ...the question is then: is the market following? You cannot push it down people's throats," he noted.

But while Jonnaert stressed that carmakers were committed to achieving the targets, the official position paper said that "should the European Commission exclude [UK] data from fleet-average calculations, then the commission must review the target of 95gCO2/km for passenger cars".

'Desperate'

"Acea are desperate to find any way to let carmakers off their CO2 targets that were agreed a decade ago and don't come into force fully until 2021," said Archer, clean vehicles campaigner for the Transport & Environment group.

"The reality is the effects of excluding UK sales data are small and some carmakers gain whilst others lose," he added.

Indeed, the average figure for the UK in 2016 was 120.1 grammes/km – higher than the EU average.

But even beyond that, Acea's argument that a review of the target is required if the composition of the EU changes, does not hold up.

The 95 grammes target dates back to a 2009 regulation, and has its origins in a European Parliament resolution from 2007, when Croatia was not yet a member state.

The eastern European country's accession in 2013 has not been a reason for the EU to change the target, which applies to the entire EU.

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.

New Commission CO2 rules for cars include some 'leeway'

Cars should emit 30 percent less CO2 by 2030, the Commission proposed, but carmakers will be allowed to miss that target (up to a point) if they manufacture a certain share of low emission vehicles.

Interview

Car industry 'only listens to targets', warns lead MEP

'You can't reduce your CO2 emissions if you don't have targets in place,' says MEP Miriam Dalli. She will tell the European Parliament on Wednesday cars should be 50 percent cleaner by 2030, whilst the Commission proposed 30 percent.

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