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17th Apr 2021

Interview

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

  • Traffic in Paris. About one-fifth of Europe's CO2 emissions is caused by road transport (Photo: Pedro Gandra)

Maltese MEP Miriam Dalli will argue in the parliament on Wednesday (15 May) that CO2 targets for cars should be more strict than proposed by the European Commission - and that a new on-road test should be introduced to prevent cheating.

"I think targets are there to help car manufacturers actually help the European continent as a whole reduce our CO2 emissions," Dalli told EUobserver in an interview.

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  • MEP Miriam Dalli was also a member of the parliament's inquiry committee into the Dieselgate scandal (Photo: European Parliament)

"You can't reduce your CO2 emissions if you don't have targets in place. This we saw from experience. The moment we started having targets in place, was the moment we started seeing a decline in CO2 emissions."

Dalli, part of the Socialist & Democrats group, is the 'rapporteur' for a bill that would set CO2 targets for 2030 – which means that she is steering the file through parliament by writing a draft response.

Later, after parliament has achieved a compromise over its desired amendments, Dalli will represent her colleagues in negotiations with national governments in the Council of the EU.

Dalli's draft report will be discussed on Wednesday in the parliament's environment committee.

In her text, the MEP proposed that instead of a 30 percent CO2 reduction target by 2030 for each car company's fleet– as proposed by the commission – there should be a 50 percent reduction target.

And the commission's 15 percent interim target for 2025 should be increased to 25 percent, she said.

Moreover, the commission should review the targets by 2023, and tighten them if technological development has made that possible.

Dalli told this website that the higher figures were needed for Europe to fulfil its climate promises made in Paris in 2015 – to help limit global warming to under 2C, in an effort to avoid the worst of expected climatic catastrophes.

She disagreed with climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete – who recently implied that higher CO2 targets would lead to job losses.

"Which is kind of funny, because the impact assessment of the commission itself states that with more stringent levels you will have job increases and not job losses," said Dalli.

"A lot of different studies indicate as well that with more stringent targets you will have job increases – they might not be job increases in the automotive industry, but there are a lot of other sectors which are involved," she noted.

Dalli also added that Europe should be at the forefront of producing batteries for electric vehicles.

"It is estimated that until the year 2025 there will be a global market of €250bn when it comes to battery manufacturing. I do not think that we should lose out on such a potential," she said.

In her proposal, 50 percent of a car manufacturer's fleet would have to be zero and low emission vehicles (ZLEV) by 2030.

Dalli did not want to call this a target, but rather a "benchmark", although carmakers would face stricter CO2 targets if they missed the ZLEV 'benchmark'.

The idea builds on a proposal by the commission to reward carmakers that invest in electric cars and other ZLEVs by letting them partly miss their CO2 targets.

But this part of the commission's proposal contained only a carrot. Dalli wants to add a stick.

"The commission, as things stand, wants to incentivise only those car manufacturers that actually reach that target. But what happens if car manufacturers are not interested in actually reaching those targets? Nothing happens in that case," said Dalli.

"I think if we incentivise alone, to be honest, we will not have the proper trigger to move things," she added.

Real driving emissions

Dalli has first-hand experience with the behaviour of Europe's car industry. She was one of the MEPs investigating the Dieselgate scandal in a parliamentary inquiry committee.

That scandal involved the nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions filter systems of diesel engines being designed in such a way that these filters would work at full throttle only during the official test.

Millions of cars still driving around in Europe today have such engines, emitting much more NOx than the official EU norms allow. (NOx is a pollutant that causes health and environmental problems, while CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change)

In response to this gap between emissions in the laboratory and the real world, the EU introduced a real driving emissions (RDE) test for NOx.

Although the gap between lab and real world CO2 emissions is much smaller than for NOx, it is still growing, and was at 42 percent in 2015.

Following the one-year inquiry, the EU parliament proposed an RDE test for CO2 as well – a suggestion which the commission dismissed in its proposal.

Dalli now wants to reintroduce the idea for a CO2 RDE test.

"I don't us want to end up in a situation where on paper we have reductions and then in the real physical world we end up with cars emitting much more on the road," she said.

"It is the way forward if we really want to understand how vehicles are behaving on the road," she said about an on-road test for CO2, which the commission would have to develop.

Car lobby uses Brexit to dispute CO2 targets

The lobby group for European car manufacturers has said that if UK sales data is not counted when calculating CO2 emissions, the target should be reviewed. The commission has refused to comment.

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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.

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