EU car emissions plummet due to diesel and economic downturn

The average car sold in the EU in 2012 was 9% more fuel-efficient than the average three years before, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

According to provisional data on vehicles sold in 2012, the average CO2 emissions from the new car fleet in the EU fell by 2.6% between 2011 and 2012.

The EEA claims that improved technology and an increase in the share of diesel cars are the main reasons behind the fall in emissions.

However, the report also suggests that the economic downturn may have had just as heavy an impact on emissions because the overall sale of cars decreased while the sales of more efficient models rose.

EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade said: “New vehicle technology is becoming more efficient, which is an encouraging sign. But significantly cutting the greenhouse gases from transport will also require a more fundamental change in the transport modes we use and how we use them.”

Although CO2 levels from new cars have decreased significantly in the last three years, carbon emissions from road transport have increased by 21% between 1990 and 2011.

In reaction to this, the EU has a short-term target for average new car emissions to be below 130 grams carbon dioxide per kilometre (g CO2/km) by 2015, and a long term target of 95 gCO2/km by 2020. In 2012, average emissions were 132.2 gCO2/km.

Under EU legislation, car manufacturers have individual emissions targets based on the average mass of the cars they sell. 2012 is the first year that manufacturers may face fines if they exceed their target and the EEA says it will report on compliance with 2012 targets later this year.

According to the figures, in 2012, approximately 12 million new cars were sold, dropping from a peak in 2007 when 5 million new vehicles were registered.

Registrations of new cars fell furthest in 2012 in countries hit hardest by the Eurozone crisis such as Greece (-41%), Portugal (-38%) and Cyprus (-25%).

Diesel vehicles, which traditionally emit less CO2 than their petrol counterparts, represented 55% of the newly registered vehicle fleet.

However, diesel cars emit higher levels of some air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, compared with petrol-driven equivalents.

Annual pure electric vehicle sales increased 20-fold over the last three years, going from around 700 in 2010 to around 14,000 in 2012. Most of these cars were registered in France (more than 5,500 vehicles in 2012) and Germany (almost 3,000 vehicles).

Conor McGlone

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