EU ministers to back car CO2 emissions talks

Car makers' new offer on fuel efficiency to be welcomed, but legislative threat to remain

EU environment ministers will support moves towards a voluntary approach to improving fuel efficiency of new cars at next Monday's Environment Council meeting, ENDS Daily has learned.

After negotiations between the European Commission and the Association of European Car Manufacturers (ACEA) stalled, it had looked likely that the Council would instruct the Commission to draft a directive setting mandatory limits on new cars' carbon dioxide emissions. The prospect has now receded following a new offer from ACEA delivered to EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard last week (ENDS Daily 11 March).

The EU wants to achieve average carbon dioxide emissions from new cars in the Union of 120 grams per kilometre (g/km) by 2005, compared with current average of over 180g/km. Until last week, ACEA staunchly held out for 167g/km, but has now offered to achieve 140g/km, though by 2008 rather than 2005.

Ms Bjerregaard responded positively to the offer last week. EU ministers will back the approach on Monday, according to Council sources, although diplomats stress that legislative moves will be put on hold rather than ruled out.

Governments' renewed enthusiasm for a voluntary deal is in part because the new offer is seen as a real advance. The 120g/km target was always intended to be met through a combination of a voluntary agreement and other measures, one official told ENDS Daily. The remaining 20g/km difference between the two sides could be met through these.

On the other hand, countries are understood to be reluctant to legislate if this can be avoided. "There's a split" between states with big car manufacturing industries and those without, one diplomat said, "so legislation would be very difficult".

Despite the difficulties, ministers look certain to maintain the option of a directive. "The only reason [ACEA] has come up with this offer is the threat of legislation, and the threat will remain," one diplomat said.

Governments are also being careful to keep their options open because negotiation of a final, workable voluntary agreement is still a long way off. In its new offer, ACEA specified that meeting the headline carbon dioxide reduction target would be conditional on a range of commitments from governments, several of which are clearly unacceptable, according to Council sources.

These include a demand by ACEA that the EU imposes no "negative measures" on diesel cars, and a requirement that ultra-low sulphur diesel and petrol are made available. One diplomat described conditionality on low sulphur fuels as "cheeky".

European environmental groups are also strongly sceptical of ACEA's new offer. The 140g/km offer is already too lax, one Brussels-based lobbyist told ENDS Daily. The conditions ACEA is seeking would make it "meaningless".

Follow Up:
Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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