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28th May 2023

Court case too late to halt new EU car emissions test

  • Diesel cars are contributing to smog in Paris. The city wants to prevent a new emissions test to come into force because it is lenient to carmakers (Photo: Damián Bakarcic)

The cities Paris, Brussels, and Madrid have asked the Court of Justice of the EU for the annulment of a new on-road emissions test, but the ruling will not come in time to prevent the test from being applicable in September 2017.

“We can't expect a ruling before 1 September,” a source close to the court told EUobserver.

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The case is about the new Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test, which is aimed at making it more difficult for car manufacturers to cheat with emissions measurements.

However, because the gap between the emissions measured in the lab and actually emitted on the road was so large, EU lawmakers decided to give carmakers a transitional phase.

Diesel cars can break the EU limit for dangerous nitrogen oxides (NOx) until 2020 by a factor of 2.1, which means cars that are twice as dirty as the official EU limit will still be accepted on the road.

Member states made the decision in an expert committee in October 2015, just weeks after the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal had broken. In February 2016, MEPs rallied behind the decision.

The cities of Paris, Brussels, and Madrid filed complaints with the General Court, one of the three courts that make up the Court of Justice of the European Union.

They asked, in June and July last year, for a judge to annul the EU decision.

The city of Paris also wants the European Commission “to pay symbolic damages of one euro, as compensation for the harm caused to the City of Paris as a result of the adoption of such a regulation”.

Several European cities are struggling to keep the air clean, in part because diesel passenger vehicles are much dirtier on the road than official laboratory tests suggest.

That is in part due to the fact that the official lab test is not sufficiently representative of real-world circumstances, but also because carmakers have decided to tailor diesel cars to the test.

While diesel cars that were approved under the old scheme are allowed to emit no more than 80 milligrams of NOx per driven kilometre, cars signed off as of 1 September 2017 – with the RDE test – will be allowed to emit up to 168 mg/km.

However, the three cases, which will likely be merged, are currently still in the “written procedure”, an early stage in the proceedings, according to the court source.

Since there are no hearings in August, this makes it very unlikely that the General Court can come to a decision before the new regulation becomes applicable.

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