EU's Auto/Oil II research programme reviewed

Big emissions cuts projected from 1998 laws; attention to shift to national, non-technical, actions

The European Commission has published findings from a major research programme into road transport emissions and options to tackle them. Finalised in May, Auto/Oil II shows that 1998 fuel quality and vehicle standards laws flowing from its predecessor, Auto/Oil I, will yield substantial improvements in air quality by 2010. While further EU-wide controls on fuels and vehicles are likely, Auto/Oil II shows that their relative importance will fall compared with national and local initiatives, which may increasingly be non-technical.

The research also suggests that future EU air quality policy will increasingly need look at non-road transport emission sources. A Commission communication on the programme adopted on Thursday endorses a DG Environment plan to launch a new "clean air for Europe" programme, leading to a "comprehensive air quality strategy covering all the relevant emission sources by 2004" (ENDS Daily 26 January 1999).

Further EU laws tightening controls on fuels and vehicles are already in the pipeline as a result of Auto/Oil II, in the form of a Commission proposal for stricter emission limits on motorcycles (ENDS Daily 26 September). Two-wheeled vehicles were identified during the multi-stakeholder research process as a key remaining area where stricter emission limits could significantly improve air quality.

The next step will be a legislative proposal for stricter fuel quality parameters designed to fill "gaps" in 2005 standards set in the 1998 fuel quality directive (ENDS Daily 30 June 1998). Auto/Oil II concluded that further "modest" improvements in air quality could be obtained through this route.

A draft directive is expected early next year. What is not yet clear, and was not considered in Auto/Oil II, is whether it should propose further cuts in fuel sulphur levels. The Commission is currently sifting the results of a consultation (ENDS Daily 25 May) after political pressure from Germany (ENDS Daily 13 October 1999).

A striking result of Auto/Oil II is how far the Auto/Oil I legislative package will reduce road transport emissions of "conventional pollutants" - benzene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, fine particulates (PM10) and ozone. Together, the package is projected to cut emissions by 80% from 1995 to 2010. Overall, the Commission predicts "a significant decoupling of conventional emissions from traffic/economic growth," and a fall in road transport's share of these emissions.

The main remaining problem areas, the research shows, will be PM10, ozone and local exceedences of nitrogen dioxide standards. New EU-wide controls would be appropriate to control PM10, it concludes, along with "more targeted measures" on nitrogen dioxide. Projected exceedences of benzene standards "could even be overcome as side effects of other measures".

One further problem area is carbon dioxide emissions. Even taking into account the EU's voluntary agreement with car makers (ENDS Daily 6 October), Auto/Oil II concludes that CO2 levels will continue to rise at least until 2005, thereafter stabilising rather than falling.

Auto/Oil II suggests a range of new policies to further cut road transport air pollution, many to be taken by EU member states. Specific actions modelled by researchers include promotion of alternative fuels for "captive fleets," fiscal instruments, enhanced vehicle scrapping schemes and local, non-technical measures such as parking charges and road pricing.

Fiscal instruments and local non-technical measures could have significant potential. General increases in fuel duty or, even better, differentiated fuel duties, are predicted to have "large net societal benefit" if revenues are used to reduce "more distorting" taxes. Local, non-technical measures are found to provide "highly cost-effective solutions".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. See also communication COM(2000) 626 Review of the Auto/Oil II Programme, and DG Environment's Auto/Oil II web pages.

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