With human lives in the balance, EU car lobby wins the fight to continue emitting on average four times the legal limit of deadly pollutants

The gap between reported and actual emissions needs to be urgently rectified
The gap between reported and actual emissions needs to be urgently rectified
Morgue File

Publish date: October 29, 2015

The conventional car maker industry has once again proven its influence on the EU policy making arena. Under shameless pressure from car-manufacturing Member States, the European Commission has agreed to delay the introduction of a new, more stringent emission testing procedure (the ‘real driving emissions test’) by one year, thus delaying urgently needed measures to cut down high levels of dangerous air pollutants observed in a majority of European cities. While new types of vehicles have to undergo these tests from 2017, all existing car types are exempted until 2019, not 2018 as was proposed. The Commission’s decision comes despite recent revelations of widespread fraudulent practices by car makers and growing awareness in European cities of the deadly health effects of traffic-derived air pollution, notably on children.

In addition to exposing the deficiency of the NEDC emission testing procedure, the recent Volkswagen scandal highlights that fossil and in particular diesel car makers are finding it increasingly difficult to improve car engine performance and comply with EU emission standards. This is further reflected in the fact that some have preferred cheating the system, rather than investing in energy efficiency and cleaner transport fuels” comments Hallstein Havåg, Director of Policy & Research at Bellona.

In fact, test manipulations have enabled car makers to reduce their costs of complying with EU regulations by roughly €7 billion[1]. This cost has instead been incurred by society – in the form of deadly air pollution levels and associated health problems.

The Volkswagen scandal, revealing the German car maker’s use of defeat devices to produce unrealistically low emission results, brought world-wide attention to a common practice observed across the whole car maker industry. Emission tests in the EU have until now been governed by the deceivingly named ‘New’ European Driving Cycle (NEDC). Since its adoption in 1970, car makers have perfected their skills at exploiting loopholes to obtain artificially low emission results thus widening the ‘gap’ between reported and actual emissions. It was initially hoped that the EU would enforce the new real driving emissions test from 2018, but the car lobby has now won another year of belching out deadly emissions.

Responding to a scandal with another scandal, rather than with a solution 

The limited effect recent findings have had on the Commission’s decision to delay the introduction of the improved emission testing procedure sheds doubt on whether human health and environmental concerns feature among the institution’s priorities. How much more evidence will be needed for the Commission to step up its efforts in combatting air pollution –one of the biggest killers today?” – comments Jonas Helseth, Director at Bellona Europa, in response to the Commission’s decision.

The implications of the Commission’s surrender to car maker industry interests

The one-year-delay won by car makers means that they will be able to continue ignoring real-life tests for their vehicles (which currently emit on average four times[2] the legal limit) until September 2019. Following that, they can still emit more than twice the legal threshold of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and up to 50% more from 2021. A study by the International Council of Clean Transport shows that this is the first time in the history of EU policy on air pollution control that the Euro standards will be changed to raise the emission limit as opposed to lowering it.

Policy makers can no longer remain blind to this injustice. Adequate solutions allowing for reductions in CO2, NOx and emissions of other pollutants already exist today. Electrification of transport is one of the most suitable tools to reconcile climate and air quality goals. What is missing is a favorable EU-level regulatory and fiscal environment, to render the technology competitive with ICE cars. The European Commission therefore needs to underline the importance of fostering this technology in its upcoming Communication on the Decarbonisation of Transport.

European society should wake up to what’s happening here. EU civil society fears that EU environmental standards should be negatively influenced by American standards if Europe were to enter the TTIP free-trade agreement with the US, yet what we have seen here is a complete surrender of the EU and the need for US regulators to reveal it”, Helseth pointed out. “With EU Member States’ governments and the Commission essentially admitting complete inability and failure to deal with one of our biggest health challenges today, it’s now on consumers to become aware of the car industry’s frauded emission data, and to simply stop buying those cars”, concludes Helseth.