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24th Sep 2020

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

  • 'The good old combustion engine car that served us so well for 130 years is ready for a well-deserved retirement,' said one MEP ahead of the vote (Photo: European Parliament)

Cars and vans sold in the EU in 2030 should on average emit 40 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) than they will in 2021, the European Parliament decided in a vote on Wednesday (3 October).

MEPs said that by 2025 the emission levels should already be 20 percent lower than in 2021.

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The outcome of the vote on the complicated, number-heavy legislative file will now be the parliament's starting point for three-way negotiations with the European Commission and the Council of the EU – where national governments meet.

The commission had proposed that the 2030 CO2 reduction target should only be 30 percent. The council is expected to determine its position next Tuesday at a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg.

On Wednesday, MEPs went along with the commission's proposal to introduce a 'bonus system' for car makers whose fleets reach a certain percentage of electric vehicles or other zero-emission and low-emission vehicles (ZLEVs). But the parliament increased the figures.

They adopted an amendment which said car companies whose new sales in 2030 consisted of 35 percent ZLEVs, should be allowed to miss the CO2 target by up to five percentage points.

The 35 percent by 2030 reference point – called a 'benchmark' in the proposed legislation – would be preceded by a 2025 benchmark of 20 percent ZLEVs.

This is similar to what the commission proposed, only with a higher yardstick – the commission proposed a 15 percent benchmark in 2025 and a 30 percent one by 2030.

Additionally, the parliament said that the system should work both ways, and that it should be a 'bonus-malus' system.

In other words, if a car maker does not produce enough ZLEVs to reach the benchmarks, it will have to reduce more CO2 emissions than the 30 percent target.

Jobs vs climate?

The vote followed a debate on Tuesday which saw a deep divide between MEPs that argued a higher ambition would endanger jobs, and those that said stricter environmental norms could go hand-in-hand with new jobs, innovation, and economic growth.

"More ambition will stimulate innovation and investments in the European Union," said centre-left MEP Miriam Dalli.

The Maltese MEP is 'rapporteur', meaning she is in charge of steering the legislative file through parliament, and will be the lead negotiator defending the parliament's position.

Meanwhile, German centre-right MEP Jens Gieseke warned against too high CO2 targets.

"I've discussed this with industry and trade unions and it's very clear in their opinion thousands of jobs are going to be lost. We have to prevent that," he noted.

But Dalli dismissed such claims from mostly centre-right MEPs – many of them from car-producing countries.

"What I heard tonight is not necessarily always based on facts. To the MEPs who think that by going low on ambition they are doing a favour to industry, I ask you to look what is going on around you," she said.

The debate on Tuesday happened on the same day that the Danish government announced it would ban the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by 2030, and as an enormous market like China is investing heavily in electric vehicles.

"The good old combustion engine car that served us so well for 130 years is ready for a well-deserved retirement," said Dutch liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy.

"If in Europe we want to build tomorrow's car, we have to develop it much more quickly than we are doing now. Market forces as we have seen are not sufficient. The legislators should help," he noted.

Gerbrandy was one of the authors of a damning parliament report about the Dieselgate scandal. Several of Tuesday's speakers were members of the inquiry committee into the widespread emissions cheating by European carmakers.

"If the European Union really wants to compete with China, then our producers should offer enough low-emission and zero-emission cars," said Mark Demesmaeker, a Belgian MEP who sits with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

"I hope that we have learned our lesson from Dieselgate," he added.

However, his Flemish nationalist party may have been one of the ECR members that were the exception to the rule.

Following the vote, the ECR published a press release complaining that: "MEPs endanger car industry with unrealistic emissions plans".

Nail-biting vote

But the amendments tabled by MEPs from the ECR and the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) – respectively the largest and third-largest groups in the parliament – were all defeated, often by a narrow margin.

Several times, the parliament vice-president chairing the vote had to call for an electronic check, because a show of hands was not clear enough.

At one point, Dalli was caught on camera literally biting her nails in anticipation of the outcome of the vote.

Ahead of the vote, EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete had defended the commission's original proposal for a 30 percent target as "ambitious and realistic".

"We need to give sufficient time to achieve this transformation, to undertake the necessary investments, and to re-skill and up-skill the workers in the current automotive supply chain," he said.

"While the overall employment increases with the level of ambition, existing jobs related to the combustion engine risks being lost in the automotive sector if the transition is too fast," Canete added.

Following the vote, the plenary gave Dalli the mandate to start negotiations with Canete and the council, once the latter adopts its position.

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.

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.

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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