EU carmakers failing on lower carbon promise

European carmakers are failing to deliver the lower carbon emissions they pledged to the European Commission in 1998, with emission rates from new cars down by only 1% last year, new data shows.

Research released by the Transport and Environment (T&E) NGO found new cars sold in Europe in 2005 emitted 160g CO2 per kilometre on average, while the Association of European Automobile Manufacturers (ACEA) had pledged 140g/km by 2008. Manufacturers are set to miss this target unless they achieve an unprecedented annual improvement rate of 4.3% over 2005-2008.

The European Union has relied on the carmakers’ pledge to help reach its own target of 120g of CO2 per kilometre by 2010 from a baseline of 186g/km in 1995.

The voluntary agreement with the car industry is part of EU climate change policy aimed at fulfilling Kyoto targets. Cars are responsible for 15% of EU carbon emissions, and the ACEA accounts for over 80% of all cars sold in Europe.

T&E argues that more EU regulation is necessary if real progress is to be made.

“Left to their own devices, the car industry won’t make good on their promise. It is an affordable target, but it requires a change of focus,” Aat Peterse of T&E told edie.

“The EU has relied on this pledge from the manufacturers. But there is no point in waiting any longer,” he said.

T&E accuses carmakers of developing bigger and more powerful cars instead of reducing CO2 emission rates through improved fuel efficiency and technological innovation.

But manufacturers say they are only responding to what European consumers want. “Consumers are certainly interested in the price of running a car, but the tendency in the last 10-15 years is that people want larger and roomier cars. That doesn’t necessarily drive fuel efficiency,” an ACEA spokesperson told edie.

“The consumer doesn’t have a green mind when making a purchase. They are much more safety-minded,” he said, adding that fuel efficiency is “not an important driver of consumer demand.”

European manufacturers are nevertheless spending an annual 20bn Euro on research and development, most of it geared at improving safety and environmental performance. The pledge to achieve 140g of CO2/km by 2008 still stands, said the spokesperson.

The annual improvement rate of 4.3% that this would require would be far beyond anything the industry has achieved before. The fastest improvements in CO2 emission rates were seen in 2000 with a 2.9% reduction. But this was largely due to a growth in sales of diesel cars, which entail the additional problem of particulate matter emissions and cannot be relied on for future improvements.

Goska Romanowicz

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