When I see a bad thriller movie for the second or third time on a late-night TV re-run, rarely do I find it any more appealing: I already know the plot, I can remember the butler did it and I am reminded that, even the first time I saw the film, the acting made my hair stand up – for the wrong reasons. The latest round of negotiations on the EU's carbon emission standards for cars are not much different, bringing up the same tired lines by the same old actors. German carmakers, including Europe's biggest company Volkswagen (VW), are still trying to dodge their responsibility to help make sustainable transport a reality: a predictable plot turn by the usual suspects. Greenpeace will be challenging carmakers to ensure the outcome is not another tragedy.
In July, things had seemed a bit brighter, promising perhaps to finally deliver an original storyline. At the time, VW vowed to do what it needed to meet emission standards proposed by the European Commission a couple of days earlier. But suddenly, joined by other German carmakers such as Daimler and BMW, it instead reverted to its old lament about the EU's target for 2020, agreed by European ministers and the European Parliament four years ago. The carmakers said the target was beyond their reach with conventional technology and would require selling too many electric. Independent studies showed that existing technology was all that was needed to hit the target, with hardly any reliance on electric vehicles. But the German carmakers would not be deterred.
And so, not for the first time, VW reverted to its more familiar role as the villain in the story, along with its henchmen in Daimler and BMW. The company has started a lobbying campaign to weaken the car emission standards by creating loopholes so big that you could drive several Touran 4x4s through them. Their main objective is to change the system used to calculate average emissions from European car fleets.
The normal way to calculate average emissions would be to add up the amount of CO2 from every car that is sold and then to divide it up by the number of vehicles. But what the car lobby wants is to count lower emission vehicles, such as hybrids and electric cars, two or three times towards the average. They also want unsold low emission cars to be counted. This would, they say, encourage car companies to produce cleaner vehicles. In reality, what it would do is allow companies to continue producing more polluting cars by offsetting them with unsold cleaner ones. This cunning little trick would significantly increase average car emissions. While formally maintaining the 2020 target of 95g of CO2/km per car, average emissions would increase to 105g in 2020, reducing their effort to cut emissions by 25%. .
Unsurprisingly, consumers, drivers and environmentalists are all unhappy about the return of this familiar plot. In 2008, when the first EU standard was decided, carmakers got away with a three-year delay. European governments cannot give in again. No-one would want to see a re-make of a B-movie with a fundamentally flawed plot.
Instead of engaging with 'special effects' cuts that only exist on paper, European ministers should speak out for tighter rules and back a new target of no more than 60g CO2/km by 2025 to place themselves at the forefront of the transport revolution. Such a target would lead manufacturers to dedicate a significant percentage of their sales to advanced electric cars and to finally help protect the climate by getting us off oil. That is the kind of happy ending for drivers and the planet that we should all be looking for.
Franziska Achterberg – Greenpeace EU transport policy director