Europe’s biggest countries are lobbying for a proposed EU cap on nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from cars to be weakened in a vote on Wednesday, despite the VW diesel emissions scandal and revelations that 90% of cars do not currently meet pollution standards when on the road.
The UK has called for NOx emissions at twice the current legal maximum to be allowed until 2019, and for loopholes after that to permit emissions 40% above the European commission’s proposal of 80mg/km, the Guardian understands.
The British request was made in a paper submitted ahead of Wednesday’s decisive vote by a Brussels committee of national representatives.
Germany and France are pushing for similar targets, while other EU states support a drive by car manufacturers to delay implementation of the new rules for a year. Spain has held out for a start date three years later than that.
The Green MEP Bas Eickhout described the lobbying as “cynical and incomprehensible”. He said: “This is an outrage. We strongly urge the commission and EU governments to approve a test cycle that is based on real driving emissions, with no exemptions. The alternative would be a failure for Europe’s citizens.”
Earlier today, MEPs sitting in Strasbourg voted against any exemptions to the EU’s proposed NOx mandate, although their resolution is not binding.
The environmental thinktank Transport & Environment (T&E) said that the lobbying by big EU countries risked a permanent overshoot of the strict standard, due to come into force in 2017.
“Europe can’t afford to lose any more time,” said Greg Archer, of T&E. “We need to show determination, and stick to the rules agreed long ago.”
Some 23,500 people in Britain die prematurely from NOx emissions every year. The UK government is clear that the greatest contributor to illegal levels of NOx is the failure of vehicles to comply with regulations outside the testing lab.
The European commission proposal for the vote, seen by the Guardian, would allow emissions to be 60% over the current limit from 2017 when comes into force, and then falling to 20% after 2019. This would create a NOx cap of 95mg/km.
Diplomats say that the outcome of the vote, which will be decided by a qualified majority of national representatives on the technical committee for motor vehicles, is too close to call.
“Everything is possible,” one told the Guardian. “There could be some change to the commission proposal to try to find a qualified majority. It is still open.”
Car makers such as Fiat, Volvo and Seat argue that without leeway in the NOx targets, their revenues will be hit by having to pull existing vehicles from the market early. They also want to be given leeway after 2019 to reflect uncertainties in test measurements.
However, MEPs rejected their position today, passing a resolution by 493 votes to 145 calling for auto-manufacturers to be given no flexibility at all in meeting the 80mg/km NOx limit. The MEPs also appealed for emissions tests to be widened to include pollutants such as particulate matter and sulphur dioxide. An inquiry should be set up into the role played by national authorities in the VW scandal, they said.
Similar sentiments were expressed by some European countries at a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg yesterday.
“The car industry has a huge credibility problem which also affects our health and environment and the EU reputation,” said Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg’s environmental minister. “We need the new tests and better governance very soon.”