Though the overall thrust of the directive confirms indications that emerged earlier this year (ENDS Daily 9 March), the Commission has strengthened its ambition on one significant point by calling for widespread availability of sulphur free fuels in all countries by 2005 rather than 2007.
This would coincide with the introduction of new EU fuels standards under a 1998 directive, including a maximum 50 parts per million (ppm) sulphur content for fuels. Sulphur free fuels, by contrast, are taken to contain no more than 10ppm sulphur.
According to the Commission, beginning the phase-in of sulphur-free fuels from 2005 will ensure "optimum savings" in greenhouse gas emissions. It calculates that fuel efficiency will increase by 2% in diesel vehicles and 3% in petrol, offsetting an expected 5% increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from oil refineries.
Overall, it says, the move should save 1.8m tonnes CO2 per year by 2012 and 5.6m tonnes annually by 2020. The net monetary benefits of lower air pollution and fuel savings will reach euros 308 million by 2020, it says.
The proposal marks a victory for car makers, but carries a sting in the tail, in the form of renewed pressure to do more to cut vehicle CO2 emissions. The industry has already signed a controversial voluntary agreement with the EU. The Commission said today that it would now "explore the possibilities for additional commitments".
Also included in today's announcement is the promise of a separate proposal later this year to limit vehicle emissions of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and a decision not to propose controls on the oxygenating additive MTBE (see separate article, today's issue).
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