EU bows to car lobby on pollution limits

Stephen Castle
Wednesday 07 February 2007 01:00 GMT

Europe has missed a vital chance to impose tough curbs on CO2 emissions from cars following fierce lobbying from the motor industry, environmental groups said yesterday.

Despite overwhelming evidence presented by scientists this week about the scale of the threat posed by global warming, the European Commission is to opt today for a blueprint on emissions limits that avoids placing the maximum burden on car-makers.

The decision comes after months of lobbying, the intervention of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and an open feud within the European Commission between the top official responsible for environment and his counterpart with responsibility for industry.

However, the announcement will still create the toughest standards imposed on vehicle makers anywhere in the world and force car manufacturers to make drastic reductions in the climate-changing gases produced by their products.

All 27 European commissioners are expected to adopt a plan at a meeting today that would oblige makers of new cars to impose an average limit in CO2 emissions of 130g per km (gpk) for EU-manufactured vehicles by 2012. But the EU will still stick to an overall target of 120gpk which, it says, can be achieved by other means such as increased use of biofuels and more fuel-efficient tyres.

Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, had pressed for the pain to be concentrated more clearly on the engine makers. But he has won a commitment to press for binding legislation and saw off proposals that the target should be met by ill-defined means such as cutting drivers' speeds and improving road surfaces.

The deal was criticised by environmental campaigners. Caroline Lucas, the Green MEP for south- east England, said: "Today's decision is deeply disappointing and calls into serious question the Commission's commitment to addressing climate change.

"Just a month ago, the EU unveiled its new energy strategy to great fanfare, with claims that the EU was going to play a real global leadership role - and yet here we see it falling at the first hurdle."

Tony Bosworth, the transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "Although we welcome the European Commission's recognition that we need legislation to make car manufacturers play a full part in tackling climate change, it appears that the Commission is going to water down its long-agreed target, which is deeply disappointing. Climate change is the biggest threat the planet faces.

"The EU must show it is serious about cutting emissions by setting the motor industry tough targets to build and sell greener cars."

Manufacturers agreed 11 years ago to a 120gpk voluntary target for 2010, but average emissions from new cars sold in the EU in 2005 were 162gpk. That failure has convinced the Commission that binding targets are needed.

Today's announcement is a hard-fought compromise and one that must be approved by the EU's 27 countries and the European Parliament. Inside the European Commission it has provoked acrimonious confrontation. For weeks, Mr Dimas and Gunther Verheugen, the industry commissioner, failed to discuss the plan face to face, producing two contradictory documents instead. Critics of the Dimas proposal claimed that, if the 120gpk target were imposed on all cars - including high-performance models - that would be mean "having to close DaimlerChrysler, BMW, Audi and Porsche".

Mr Verheugen, the German commissioner, is acutely sensitive to the interests of his country's car makers, who have been lobbying furiously against the planned limit. The car industry says it employed two million people in the EU in 2003, when there were 15 members, 1.2 million of them in manufacturing.

Last month, Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche's chief executive, called the plan "an attack on BMW, Mercedes, Audi and ourselves". The move would hurt French and Italian car-makers less because they make few high-performance vehicles and Mr Wiedeking described the conflict as a "business war in Europe", adding: "We will fight."

Ms Merkel also intervened, following erroneous claims that the limit would be placed on all cars rather than laid down as an average. She argued that the EU "cannot possibly... create a general obligation under which all cars, regardless of the segment in which they are produced, have to follow the same standards".

Aat Peterse, the policy officer for the campaigning group Transport and the Environment, said the car- makers had lobbied "very hard and not in a fair way".

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