Europe to clean up transport fuels

Europe is set to clean up transport fuels by introducing new standards for carbon content in diesel and petrol, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The proposed rules would require producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fuel by 10% between 2011 and 2020. There are also plans to push for more bio-fuel use and to reduce the sulphur content of diesel to combat air pollution.

A 10% cut, to be achieved in annual step reductions of 1%, would reduce annual emissions by 500m tonnes of CO2 by 2020 – equivalent to the total combined emissions of present-day Spain and Sweden.

Plans to reduce sulphur content in diesel would require all diesel on the European market to adhere to ultra-low sulphur standards, limiting sulphur content to no more than 10 parts per million.

Announcing the plans, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “This is one of the most important measures in the series of new initiatives the Commission needs to take to step up the fight against global climate change.

“It will further underpin Europe’s shift towards the low-carbon economy that is essential if we are to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous proportions.

“These proposals will also help achieve a significant reduction in the noxious pollutants from transport that can harm our citizens’ health, as well as opening the way for a major expansion in the use of biofuels, especially second generation bio-fuels,” he said.

The 10% emission reduction is based on emissions contributed by the fuel over its full life-cycle, including the production and transport of the fuel. This measure should address complaints about some biofuels being far from carbon-neutral due to the energy used to produce and transport them.

Jos Dings director of Transport & Environment said the measures would ensure that only truly sustainable biofuels were promoted: “Until now Europe’s approach to alternatives like biofuels has been to promote them regardless of whether or not they are good or bad for the environment. If it’s designed right this commitment to reducing carbon emissions will ensure that only the cleanest biofuels are promoted and the production process of fossil fuels is cleaned up.”

But while they broadly welcomed the plans, environmental campaigners criticised the Commission’s failure to bring in binding car fuel efficiency requirements as it had been widely expected to do. The Commission’s U-turn on the “gas-guzzling car ban” followed an intervention from the German car manufacturing industry, T&E said:

“The problem has been that most carmakers haven’t cut emissions fast enough, and that’s why regulation is now urgently needed.It is simply wrong that the Commission is preparing to water down an absolutely key element of Europe’s climate policy on the basis of the misleading claims of one industry in one country.”

“What we are seeing is mindless scaremongering from the German car industry” said Dings. “They are saying that makers of larger cars will have to close and thousands of jobs will be lost – it’s absurd,” he said.

Goska Romanowicz

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