EP vote to slash emissions sets up clash with car industry

The vote by MEPs in Strasbourg on October 3 on carbon dioxide emissions from cars and vans may not have attracted much attention outside European Union circles, but it could still have a huge impact on our lives. Indeed, the vote to cut vehicle emissions by an ambitious 40% by 2030 could be a tipping point, triggering a transformation in our relationship with our cars.

The Parliament’s proposals, backed by a 389 to 239 vote, also set a 20% target for 2025, with the reductions based on 2021 figures. They are even more stringent than those originally recommended by the European Commission, which suggested cuts of 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2030. But they are nonetheless slightly lower than the figures initially proposed by MEPs in the Environment Committee last month, which were 45% by 2030.

“If we don’t make sure that Europe is able to produce clean cars within a reasonable time frame, we will not only miss our Paris climate change targets, but the European car industry will lag behind”, said Maltese MEP Miriam Dalli, the rapporteur who drafted the proposal.

This is not the only upcoming measure on road transport emissions: MEPs are currently scrutinising a Commission proposal from Mayto force truck makers to lower average CO2 emissions from new trucks by 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

While Dutch Green MEPBas Eickhout welcomed the vote, he still said the Parliament was “overly cautious in the face of overwhelming evidence. The road to clean cars, zero-emission traffic and the Paris climate targets is still a long way off.”

And Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) said the vote was, “a crucial step towards cleaner air, less imported oil and more jobs”, which came, “despite an unprecedented lobby effort by the oil and car industries.”

But carmakers warned ominously that it set unrealistic targets that flew in the face of technical and economic feasibility. European carmakers’ lobby (ACEA), said the “extremely aggressive CO2 reduction targets” would impact jobs all along the value chain.

ACEA Secretary General, Erik Jonnaert warned that, “Consumers cannot be forced to buy electric cars, without the necessary infrastructure or incentives in place.” And Carlos Tavares, who is both chief executive of PSA Peugeot Citroën and ACEA President, attacked the MEPs for taking “extreme positions” around the issue of CO2. “We need to have perspective, depth and stability in decision making on this subject”, Taveres said, “but we are not creating the conditions for this to happen. We are becoming very superficial people.”

The measure still has to be approved by EU governments who are likely to water it down. Ministers are due to adopt their common position on October, and negotiations with MEPs for a first reading agreement would then start on October 10.

But even if the final compromise is less harsh, it will not go too far: Germany has already said it accepted the Commission’s initial proposal, while most other EU governments, including France, want a higher target.

It means that Europe has taken a crucial step towards cleaner, greener cars. It is likely to cost a lot of money, but it is a step that Europe’s politicians now appear ready to take.