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16th Feb 2019

Commission 'non-paper' on car CO2 levels backfires

  • The European Commission has proposed that CO2 in cars should be 30 percent less in 2030 compared to 2021 (Photo: José Pedro Costa)

The European Commission weighed in on an upcoming discussion in the European Parliament about how to reduce CO2 emissions in cars and vans by publishing a so-called non-paper on Tuesday (25 September).

However, the centre-left Maltese MEP who is in charge of steering the legislative proposal through parliament, has dismissed the document as containing "misleading figures".

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  • Centre-left Maltese MEP Miriam Dalli said a commission non-paper published Tuesday contained 'misleading figures' (Photo: European Parliament)

A non-paper is an informal document which is used for diplomatic discussions.

On Tuesday the commission published such a non-paper as an add-on to its proposal for a new regulation to reduce CO2 emissions among cars and vans in the period 2021-2030.

The timing of the non-paper's publication is peculiar, as it comes more than ten months after the commission published its proposal for the regulation, accompanied by a 169-page impact assessment (which itself was accompanied by a 124-page annex).

Moreover, it comes just a week before the European Parliament is due to vote on how to adapt the commission's proposal – a commission proposal can only become law if it is adopted by parliament and the Council of the EU, where national governments meet.

The commission had proposed that cars and vans should be emitting 30 percent less CO2 in 2030 than in 2021.

Earlier this month, the parliament's environment committee voted to recommend to the plenary that the reduction percentage is increased to 45 percent – a scenario not originally in the commission's impact assessment.

The nine-page document published on Tuesday looks at several more ambitious scenarios, like 40 percent, 50 percent and 75 percent – but also some scenarios in combination with quotas for electric vehicles.

But Maltese MEP Miriam Dalli – who initially advocated a 50 percent reduction – said in a comment to EUobserver on Wednesday that it was unclear how some calculations were made.

"It is clear that the so-called "non-paper" which the Commission is trying to present as part of its impact assessment seven days before the final vote in the European Parliament is a serious attempt at shooting down any ambition and attempting to come up with calculations to try and keep CO2 reductions down," said Dalli.

"The commission should have been clear on what and how it based its calculations. It has refrained from doing so," she added.

Dalli's dismissal of the document is probably the opposite effect of what the commission was aiming for.

"The purpose of the non-paper … is to inform the ongoing decision-making," commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said at Wednesday's daily press conference.

She noted that the commission did something similar when parliament and council – the so-called co-legislators – were discussing new EU bills on renewable energy and energy savings.

"This is a normal process of us informing, basically, the co-legislators on different developments," said the spokeswoman.

"With the non-paper it's important to state that there is no change to the Commission's position. As you know, the proposal was given last year, it is now at co-legislators, so we obviously reserve our position pending the outcome of the plenary vote and the environment council as well."

The document also follows criticism directed at the EU's climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete.

The Spanish politician has defended the 30 percent target as most appropriate, and said already last March that a higher target would lead to job losses.

The paper published on Tuesday provided a retroactive basis for that statement – in a scenario of 50 percent reduction, some 26,000 jobs reportedly would be lost in the automotive sector, as opposed to 2,000 in the 30 percent scenario.

However, the document also said that in the 50 percent scenario some 51,000 jobs would be added to the total EU economy – and 101,000 if batteries for electric cars were produced in the EU instead of imported.

But the commission does not hold a monopoly on employment forecasts.

In July, the environmental campaign lobby group Transport & Environment published a paper which said that Canete had made "misleading" claims, and referred to other studies which said a higher focus on electric cars would in fact increase employment.

The publication of the non-paper comes just a week before the parliament is due to discuss the issue in Strasbourg, and vote on it.

When asked why the information in the non-paper had not been part of the original impact assessment back in November 2017, the commission spokeswoman merely referred again to "developments" and that it aimed to "facilitate" the parliament's and council's discussions.

Loophole

However, it is not the first time that the commission has tweaked its CO2 proposal post-publication.

Last July, Canete and fellow commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska (industry) sent a letter to MEP Miriam Dalli and Austria's environment minister Elisabeth Kostinger – Austria currently holds the rotating presidency of the council.

Canete and Bienkowska asked Dalli and Kostinger to close a potential loophole.

The potential loophole was this: as the EU is moving towards a different testing method of measuring CO2, an opportunity arises for carmakers to artificially inflate their CO2 values towards 2020.

Since the commission is proposing that CO2 values in 2030 should be 30 percent less of what they are in 2021, this made it possible that carmakers made the 2030 target easier to achieve.

EUobserver already asked about this risk on the day the commission published its proposal, in November 2017.

At the time, commission officials at an off-the-record briefing dismissed this risk.

In July though, the commissioners saw themselves forced to ask the co-legislators to close a loophole – which they ultimately were responsible for introducing in the proposal.

The commission also took some other measures which should reduce the risk of inflated CO2 values weakening the reduction targets.

Non-paper

The case of the non-paper however is still somewhat peculiar. Although the document is meant to inform MEPs and the council, its publication has not been widely publicised.

It was not accompanied by a press release, and the commission's chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, said Wednesday he was not aware of the paper.

Spokeswoman Itkonen was also not able to explain in detail why the document was published as 'non-paper'.

"To your question why is it a non-paper – I mean, when is a paper a paper? It is some of the jargon that we use to describe the status of different kinds of documents that the commission prepares, and non-paper is one of them. This is a non-paper that is part of the impact assessment," she said.

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.

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.

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.

MEPs back stricter CO2 levels for cars after nail-biter vote

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday on draft legislation that will determine the CO2 emission reductions required by 2030. Where the EU commission had proposed a 30 percent cut, MEPs opted for a 40 percent reduction.

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