Cutting our car-borne emissions won’t be easy

Two interesting car-related events today. First, the European Union announced its plans to crack down on high-emitting vehicles, with direct penalties on carmakers who continue to churn out gas-guzzlers. This was announced on the day that this correspondent finally placed his order for a Toyota Prius, and is happy to be shortly retiring his thirsty current model.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a lot less happy. Not, I should add, with my choosing to trade in my German jalopy for a Japanese hybrid. No, Ms Merkel is fuming that the EU’s plans are ‘not economically favourable’.

Under the new rules, the EU will apply penalties starting at 20 euros per gram of CO2 over a target level in 2012, rising to a stiff 95 euros/gram within three years. This is putting it up to European manufacturers. BMW was quoted as saying that the proposals were naive, and would simply distort the market in favour of smaller cars. Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly what the EU, in its wisdom, is trying to achieve.

Germany is in a tricky spot here. On the one hand, its population are among the most eco-conscious in the world, with energy efficient homes and very high levels of recycling. On the other hand, they just love their cars. And with the top class Autobahn system one of the few places in the world with no speed limits, there is nothing more the normally buttoned-down German public like to do to unwind than belt down the Autobahn at 200km/hr+. Not very eco-friendly at all.

According to EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas: “Passenger cars account for about 12% of overall EU carbon dioxide emissions and emissions from transport are continually increasing. The aim of the legislation is to reduce CO2 emissions from cars in order to help fight climate change.”

This all sounds fine and dandy, as does the EU objective of bringing down average CO2 emissions in new cars from the current 160 grams/km to 130 grams/km by 2012. However, the devil, as ever in EU announcements, is in the detail. Green activists reckon the net effect may be of actually boosting sales of the heaviest kinds of cars.

Jos Dings of the pressure group Transport and Environment was quoted by the BBC as warning: “If today’s proposal becomes law, it will boost the SUV arms race in Europe, rewarding carmakers for their climate-killing strategy of making ever heavier cars.

“In the long term this strategy will backfire meaning heavier cars, more CO2 emissions and more accident deaths.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, it’s not just business as usual, we can instead expect our own SUV arms race, as dealers have them flying off the nation’s forecourts to ‘beat the Green tax’ that, conveniently, doesn’t come into effect until July 1st next.

In the US, the situation is considerably worse. An ill-advised tax break brought in by the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s led to the explosion in the category known as ‘light trucks’ – spawning new generations of monsters such as the Hummer.

The tough task of weaning Americans away from their love affair with these guzzlers will almost certainly have to wait until January 09, by which time a new administration will be in office.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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2 Responses to Cutting our car-borne emissions won’t be easy

  1. Max says:

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  2. Pingback: Awesome post!

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