Car makers must take on the “bulk of effort” to cut carbon dioxide emissions from new cars as part of Europe’s fight against climate change, the European Union (EU) executive said.
It will decide just how it can decrease average emissions from new and imported cars by 2012 as the car industry calls on other factors, like taxation and cleaner fuel, to play a part.
Rising CO2 emissions from transportation both road and aviation jeopardize the EU’s efforts to cut the amount of greenhouse gases that the region releases.
At the same time, car makers are set to miss a target they set with the European Commission nine years ago to bring down average emissions from new and imported cars to 140 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2008. Although emissions have been falling, they have not gone far enough, hitting 162 grams in 2005.
Now the EU executive is threatening a binding lower limit for 2012 but the car industry will not have to bear that alone as the EU promises to boost the use of biofuels and cleaner fossil fuels.
The car industry instead faces a softer target of 130 grams, said an EU diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“The bulk of the effort will have to come from vehicle motor technology through an average fleet target for new cars,” insisted EU spokesman , Johannes Laitenberger, stressing the overall target is still 120 grams.
But the target for the car industry will only be confirmed after EU officials carefully examine the impact of the new rules, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told a conference organized by the Forum of the Automobile and Society in Brussels.
Reacting to claims by German carmakers that mandatory limits would cripple them and force them to shed European jobs and lose business to foreign rivals, he said this “doom scenario” was a myth.
“We have thoroughly considered the concerns of the European industry that they have about job losses,” he said. “Nothing of this will happen.”
“If there are clear rules, there are no free riders. Whoever wants to access the European market will have to offer products that are in conformity with those rules,” he said.
The EU says that the industry can only gain if it embraces cutting-edge cleaner technology.
Just weeks ago, the European Union embraced a “low-carbon economy,” saying it would lead the way in the fight against climate change by shifting away from imported oil and natural gas.
Europe’s cars do not have as many alternatives open to other oil-addicted industries such as power generation. Biofuels made from energy crops such as wood or sugar are not necessarily low-carbon or energy-efficient to produce, especially if Europe’s growing demand for ethanol causes Amazon jungle to be cleared for new crop plantations.
Cars can, however, use less fuel _ and have already become far more fuel-efficient over the last decade, with car makers cutting average emissions by nearly 13 percent. But the cars that people buy have been getting heavier as safety regulations add air bags and people with longer commutes demand more comfort. More weight means more fuel.
“What has been done is spectacular,” said EU official Jos Delbeke, the head of the Commission’s climate change unit. “Engine technology has improved a lot but we are using heavier and speedier cars.”
“But what the downside of what has been done is that ... only a third (of fuel efficiency gains) has been translated into reduced energy consumption and that is part of the problem that we have to address,” he said.
Jos Dings of the environmental lobby European Federation for Transport and Environment said the car industry has played an active role in seducing consumers toward more powerful cars.
The European car manufacturers’ association, ACEA, said it is merely responding to consumer demand. Sales figures show that small, urban, fuel-efficient cars are not selling.
ACEA secretary general Ivan Hodac said the one lever that could change customers’ mind would be an EU-wide tax on carbon fuels, calling on EU governments to make a grand gesture and overcome their reluctance to setting a common European tax.
Taxes that favor more fuel-efficient diesel have helped these cars grab nearly half of the European car market.
But Delbeke was skeptical. “Fiscal incentives alone are not going to do the trick if the advertising campaigns of the car industry are only for powerful cars, the bigger the better.”
The overall level of carbon dioxide emissions from road transport has risen 22 percent since 1990 as the number of cars on the road rises and drivers travel greater distances. Passenger cars and vans made up 14 percent of Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2004, the European Environment Agency said.