Carmakers should have an extra three years' breathing space to implement carbon dioxide emission reductions, according to a report adopted by MEPs last night (1 September), to the outrage of green campaigners.
The text, adopted by the European Parliament's influential Industry and Energy Committee by 35 votes in favour to 21 against, represents a considerable dilution of Commission proposals requiring manufacturers to cut their vehicles' average CO2 emissions from current levels of around 160g/km to 120g/km by 2012.
Instead, it defends legislation whereby carmakers would only be required to ensure that 60% of their fleet meets the target by 2012, with 70% compliance by 2013, 80% by 2014 and 100% by 2015.
It also recommended that manufacturers be allowed to count certain cars – for example those emitting less than 50g/km or running on alternative fuels – as 'one-and-a-half cars', thereby bringing their overall average down. Zero-emissions cars would count as three cars until 2015.
What's more, the committee said fines imposed on carmakers for breaching the limits should be set at €40 per excess gramme of CO2 – less than half of the €95 penalty the Commission proposed.
"This text represents a reasonable compromise between climate policy and the automobile industry's competitiveness," explained German Conservative MEP Werner Langen, who is in charge of steering the legislation through Parliament.
But green groups are accusing MEPs of bending to pressure from the car industry. They say a phase-in would amount to another postponement of a now fourteen-year old target and would put the EU's overall climate objectives at risk.
"The industry committee has voted for the car industry over people and the climate by supporting an opinion ridden with loopholes," lamented Jeroen Verhoeven, a car efficiency campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) Kerstin Meyer of Transport & Environment (T&E) added: "If their proposals go unchecked by their colleagues in the environment committee and EU environment ministers, the legislation will be almost completely meaningless."
But the phase-in is a key demand of the European carmakers' lobby ACEA, which says proper 'lead-time' is "of crucial importance" to the industry's survival due to the sector's long development phases and the large investment involved. The association has also been pushing for a reduction of the "exorbitant and disproportionate" level of penalties proposed by the Commission, describing this as a "threat to employment and the economy" which limits diversity and makes cars unaffordable for consumers.
While the EU executive concedes its proposals would entail an average increase in car prices of €1,300, it says this would be offset by average fuel savings of roughly €2,700 over the car's lifetime.
Furthermore, an opinion poll , conducted by TNS Opinion for FoEE among 5,000 people in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, shows that 87% of citizens support measures to reduce the fuel consumption of new cars by a quarter. 64% believe such measures would be good for the economy because people will buy less fuel and have more money to spend on other things.
The legislative proposals still have to get approval from Parliament's full house and could be strengthened in an Environment Committee vote on 9 September. Environment ministers will discuss the proposals in October.