Commission wobbles on fight against climate change
The European Commission has proposed stricter standards on transport fuels in its fight against climate change. But critics call the move a diversion from the real problem caused by car emissions, on which the EU executive may soften its plans.
Under the slated law, oil companies will have to cut greenhouse gas emissions caused by the refining, transport and the use of their fuels by 10 percent between 2011 and 2020.
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The move would effectively cut emissions by 500 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020, which is the equivalent of Spain and Sweden's combined emissions, the EU executive said on Wednesday (31 January).
CO2 - carbon dioxide - is widely believed to be the main cause of global warming speeding up the process of climate change.
The new plan would also impose tighter limits on pollutants such as sulphur and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons - which the commission said can cause cancer - in diesel and gasoline in the 27-member bloc.
"This is one of the most important measures in the series of new initiatives the commission needs to take to step up the fight against global climate change," EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a statement.
"It is a concrete test of our political commitment to leadership on climate policy and our capacity to translate political priorities into concrete measures," he added.
Fuel project is humbug, MEP says
But green MEPs say the commission is using the fuel scheme to divert attention away from the much disputed plan to propose mandatory reductions on car emissions.
"Focussing on fuel quality alone to address emissions from road transport is like trying to quench a forest fire with a water pistol," said green MEP Claude Turmes from Luxembourg.
"By placing a disproportionate emphasis on fuel quality, the commission is diverting attention from the real problem - the cars that use the fuel - and creating the illusion that fuel from plants is the panacea for our climate problems," he pointed out.
"Car manufacturers are trying to wriggle out of a target for CO2 emissions that they have agreed to a long time ago and pass the buck on to others, like the fuel industry," he said.
The auto industry is likely to miss a current voluntary target to cut average emissions for new cars to 140 grams by 2008 - the current average is around 163 grammes.
Although no commission spokespeople wanted to comment on any numbers for the EU executive's delayed proposal on reducing car emissions - now set to come out next week - press reports have said the commission is considering bowing to industry demands and setting a compromise target of 130 instead of 120 grammes by 2012.
Merkel wades in
German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday (30 January) backed her national car industry and vowed to fight any commission proposal that aims at imposing an average cap on car emissions, saying that different cars should have different limits.
"The continued failure to set an effective binding target for car manufacturers...is a sad reflection of the priorities of this commission," said Finnish green MEP Satu Hassi.
But the commission denied it was being influenced by the car lobby and chancellor Merkel's statements, and said that today's proposal would not have an effect of next week's proposal.
"It does not in any way compromise the proposal on the table for the revision of strategies on reducing CO2 in new cars," Mr Dimas' spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich told journalists in Brussels today.
"Anybody who suspects or who speculates in this particular point in time that we are not ambitious on reducing CO2 in new cars will be deeply disappointed once the decision has been taken," she stated.