European Parliament backs tighter emissions limits for cars and vans

Plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars and vans by 2030, already informally agreed with EU ministers, were approved by MEPs on Wednesday.

MEPs and EU ministers have agreed on new higher targets to reduce EU fleet-wide emissions for new cars and vans by 2030. The new legislation sets targets to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 37.5% for cars and 31% for vans compared to 2021 levels. 

There will also be an intermediary step, where emissions for both cars and vans are expected to be cut by 15% by 2025.

The legislation now requires final adoption by Council before publication in the Official Journal.

Manufacturers whose average emissions exceed the limits will have to pay an excess emissions premium. By 2023, the European Commission will have to evaluate whether or not to allocate these amounts to a specific fund in order to transition towards zero emission mobility, and to support schemes to retrain workers for electric car production.

Germany, whose auto industry is the largest in Europe and fourth largest globally, remained largely opposed to the plans, as did several large automotive companies. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), comprised of companies such as Volvo, Volkswagen and BMW, has called the higher targets ‘totally unrealistic’, asserting that they stem from ‘political motives.’

In contrast, France, Ireland and the Netherlands led the push for the ambitious targets which exceed the recommended 30% emissions cuts previously proposed by the European Commission. Despite this, critics have noted that even these targets do not go far enough to meet the EU’s Paris Agreement obligations to cut GHG emissions by 40% of 1990 levels by 2030 in all economic sectors.

The new law also demands that the full life-cycle of emissions from cars should be assessed at EU level. 

These new regulations come in the wake of the 2015 ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, during which Volkswagen was caught tampering with emission reports. The company intentionally programmed its diesel-powered vehicles to only activate emissions controls during laboratory testing, whilst emitting up to 40 times the amount of nitrogen oxide during normal operation. 

Transport is the only sector in the EU that did not record any significant decline in GHG emissions since 1990. Rather, road transport emissions have risen by 20% since 1990. Figures from the European Environment Agency show that of all means of transport in the EU, road transport generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions (73% in 2016), and is responsible for around 20% of the EU’s total GHG emissions.

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