Emergency talks aimed at setting EU targets to reduce CO2 car emissions are being held today amid fears that bitter wrangling between car manufacturing countries could delay or even derail the process entirely.
The European Commission is due to adopt a draft regulation tomorrow on reducing carbon emissions from passenger cars to 120 grams per kilometre within five years, but a bitter fallout between European heavyweights has plunged the key negotiations into crisis. Member states with car manufacturers that traditionally produce heavy, energy-hungry cars are concerned that the emission targets will unfairly benefit those businesses that make lighter, more efficient vehicles.
France and Germany, in particular, are believed to be at loggerheads over the Commission's proposals. French manufacturers such as Peugeot-Citroen have already reduced their carbon emissions to 140g for their cars, whereas German companies such as BMW, Mercedes and Daimler still lag behind on emission targets because their vehicles are heavier and higher performance models. Sweden, which also tends to make larger cars, is also thought to be unhappy about the proposals, while Italy is backing France.
"It's a typically European fight where the national business interests of individual countries is stopping the sort of concrete agreements that could benefit everybody," said one insider close to the talks.
If the Commission fails to reach an agreement so soon after the climate change talks in Bali, it will be a severe cause of embarrassment to the environmental policy of the European Union, which claims to be taking a lead in the fight against global warming.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, the EU is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent by 2008-2012. This year, EU leaders signed up to the idea of a further 20-30 per cent reduction by 2020.
But environmental campaigners say Europe's track record on transport emissions is seriously threatening to undermine those commitments. Carbon emissions from transport in the EU grew by 32 per cent between 1990 and 2005, while other industrial sectors reduced their emissions by 9.5 per cent over the same period.
Under the plans being drawn up by the Commission, all new passenger cars would be required to emit on average no more than 130 grams per kilometre a cut of about 25 per cent from current levels. A further cut of 10 grams would then be sought through improvements to air-conditioning systems, tyre pressure monitoring and gear shift indicators, while the use of biofuels would be stepped up. Manufacturers that fail to meet those targets risk being heavily fined.
In a bid to allay the fears of Germany and Sweden, the Commission has agreed to differentiate the targets by weight, a move heavily criticised by environmental campaigners who say that will encourage manufacturers to go on making energy-inefficient, heavy cars.
Have Your Say... on coal-fired power plants: 'It is a pity that political cowardice wins again'
"The current socio/economic model we all live under, call it 'corporate democracy' or 'market democracy', is the real obstacle to taking action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. I feel almost stupid for mentioning it, but we aren't going to reduce carbon emissions substantially whilst we're still chained to the myth that we can increase our wealth exponentially decade after year. As a minimum we have to reverse the socio/economic policies of the last thirty years to stand any chance at all."
"We need more reliable 'grid energy', and to change our mode of fuelling arbitrary personal transport. Even if science can't demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that human activity is driving climate change, let's mitigate climate change any way, and worry about the argument later, when we might have the time (and the coastal cities, agricultural capacity and benign climate) in which to do so. Today, let's start building large nuclear capacity which provides electricity. Why bother prolonging the life of fossil fuel when we are only hiding the fundamental problem of carbon pollution? Move on. Nuclear is not a panacea. In 50 years, once fusion works, this will be our energy source. Let's start preparing now."
"China, China, China. As has been previously stated, China's per capita emissions are tiny they have a long way to go to get to our living standards, and why shouldn't they make it? After all, the length of time that their civilisation has been around is astounding and puts ours to shame. They have a massive amount of coal. We're talking enough to fuel them for several hundred years. Will they burn it? Let's be clear on this: Yes. This needs to be a partnership the new kid on the block (us) helping out the father figure (the Chinese). Let's not mention India yet."
Postgraduate, Imperial College London
"Self-evidently Britain needs more power. If I cut my heating bills and use the money to go to Bali for a holiday I am not reducing my energy use. Given that, we have three choices. We can use more natural gas. As we have seen with the Ukraine there is a problem in being too dependent on an untrustworthy source like Russia. We can build nuclear power plants. Unfortunately these are opposed by many Green and Nimby groups. We can build coal-fired power stations. Clearly the sensible response is nuclear but it looks as if the Government has decided that political damage from coal is less. It is a pity that political cowardice wins again."
"The decision to support the building of coal-powered plants is a difficult one. The basis of your article is that affordable carbon capture and storage technology for these plants is years away. This, I and others would take significant issue with. The technology is much closer than this and it will be retrofitable. I would say: give permission to build but require the plant to have a certain carbon foot print prior to operation.
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