Auto industry pushes £500bn road maintenance plan as ‘green’ initiative

Europe's car industry has suggested that the continent's entire road network be resurfaced at a cost of hundreds of billions of euros as a "climate initiative" so that it does not need to make mandatory car emissions cuts by 2030.

The lobbying document produced by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) and seen by the Guardian also advocates for greater use of biofuels; “smart transport” infrastructure; and “eco-driving” lessons for motorists.

Its cornerstone is the audacious suggestion for a huge infrastructure project which the car-makers suggest could substitute for planned EU targets for reducing emissions.

“Maintaining and upgrading roads surfaces can have a substantial impact on CO2 emissions,” says the new study. “All of Europe’s roads could be resurfaced with lower-rolling resistance surfaces within 20 years, resulting in CO2 reductions of up to 5% by 2035.”

Over a 20-year period, the paper estimates the project’s cost at between €520bn (£402bn) and €780bn – or an average of €26 to €39bn per year – and calls for public investment to help pay for it. “Funding streams such as the Juncker Investment Plan can play a positive role,” the paper says.

Car companies are currently obliged to cut their emissions down to 95g of CO2/km by 2021, and the European commission is this year considering new benchmarks for 2025 and 2030.

Clean transport experts reacted with disbelief to the ACEA proposals, which they described as an ineffective and expensive tax-payer subsidy for the car industry.

“This plan to coat roads in red carpet would come at an astronomical cost,” said Greg Archer, the clean vehicles director of theTransport and Environment thinktank. “You would be talking about €1,000 per tonne of carbon saved, when the current price on the ETS is €5 a tonne.”

“The industry does not seem to have learned anything from the VW scandal,” he added. “They still don’t want to take responsibility for emissions from their cars.”

Barry Gardiner, the Labour shadow energy and climate change minister said he was “appalled, disgusted, but after the VW scandal not surprised”.

“We urgently need robust rules to clean up transport and support investment in electric vehicles. We need to transform Europe’s automobile sector in order to meet our climate and energy targets,” he told the Guardian.

ACEA says that its paper, which will be launched in March, is still a draft and is intended to represent the amalgamated view of dozens of the auto and road industry trade associations.

“The views expressed in the report will be a collection of those of the different stakeholders involved in the initiative,” an ACEA spokesperson said. “As such they will not represent the positions of ACEA or its members.”

But ACEA’s secretary-general wrote the foreword to the paper, which ACEA has spent several months organising.

The Guardian has learned that several research and consumer groups which were consulted for the ACEA report asked for their names to be removed from the credits when they became aware of methodology.

“We pulled out because their approach was simply not credible,” one said. “By adding up the estimates of CO2 reductions from various Brussels lobby groups, ACEA has over-inflated the impression of what can be achieved without vehicle technologies.”

By 2030, the association’s paper claims that emissions could be cut 15% by increased biofuels use, and as much again by ‘intelligent transport systems’ that offer motorists real-time information about routes, parking and traffic.

Another 10% of CO2 pollution could be saved by teaching drivers how to plan trips to avoid congestion, reduce engine idling, drive at stable speeds and regularly maintenance their cars.

However, these projections are flatly contradicted in another soon-to-be-published report by the respected environmental consultancy Ricardo, which the Guardian has also seen.

The modeling exercise estimates the cumulative emissions savings for 2030 from intelligent transport systems, eco-driving and biofuels would be little more than 1% of present values.

For all the expense of the road maintenance project, analysts say that up to a fifth of its CO2 savings could be lost to the ‘rebound effect’ of increased car journeys that it would encourage.

In the aftermath of the VW scandal last October, investors with over €625bn of overall assets wrote to the major car companies asking for more information about their lobbying, and compliance with CO2 and efficiency standards.

Renault/Nissan, Peugeot Citroen and Ford did not respond to the missive which was organised by Shareaction, while VW, Daimler and Fiat Chrysler provided only limited answers.

“There is a transparency problem in the industry,” said Charlotta Dawidowski Sydstrand, a manager at the Swedish equity fund, AP7. “From a long term investor’s perspective this is bad news. AP7 wants to be reassured that carmakers’ political lobbying activities are contributing to a safe climate, in turn protecting the long term value of our portfolios.”

Arthur Nelsen 

This article first appeared in the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

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