Car testing must improve for pollution to drop

Inadequate testing standards could be one of the main reasons why air pollution in Europe's biggest cities is not falling as quickly as expected, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned this week.

Test standards for new cars are not taking all the necessary factors into account, underestimating the total emissions of harmful air pollutants, the EEA’s Ten key transport and environment issues for policy makers report says.

Energy consuming extras such as air conditioning are not covered by the test cycles, and other factors like diesel car owners modifying their engines to increase power are also being overlooked, making Europe’s progress towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions look better on paper than it really is.

“Ensuring that vehicles actually meet the emission standards in the real world should be a priority,” EEA executive director Professor Jacqueline McGlade commented.

According to recent EEA figures, transport volumes in Europe are still growing at the same rate as the economy, continuing to put more pressure on the environment despite the EU’s attempts to reverse this trend.

On a more positive note, cleaner vehicle technology is making a difference to air pollution levels, as pollutant emissions fell by 24-35% between 1990 and 2001 in member countries. However, transport-related pollution in urban parts of Europe still accounts for tens of thousands of premature deaths, according to the EEA.

“Shortcomings of the test standards mean that, while Europe’s motor industry is on track to meet a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars by one quarter between 1995 and 2008, greenhouse gas emissions from in-car equipment could in reality cancel out around half of the improvement,” the EEA stated.

By Jane Kettle

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