UK car industry lobbied Europe to weaken new carbon limits

The EU is setting new CO2 targets for cars after 2020 but the industry is trying to weaken them

The European Commission reportedly planned to cut emissions by more than a quarter by 2030. Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The UK car industry is attempting to weaken European efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars, Unearthed can reveal.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) – which represents UK-based manufacturers – responded to a European Commission consultation arguing that it should slow down the rate at which companies are required to reduce CO2 emissions levels and opposing targets for electric cars.

US oil major, Exxon Mobil, also wrote to the Commission stating that promoting the market uptake of electric vehicles is “unimportant”.

The Commission is set to publish proposals on Wednesday to set new limits on carbon dioxide emissions from cars for the period after 2020 – as part of efforts to tackle climate change.

Drafts circulating last week reportedly set a 25-35% emissions reduction target for 2030, with an interim target in 2025.

These ambitions have apparently been watered down since then in response to fierce lobbying by the German car industry.

Now Unearthed can reveal that the UK car industry is also opposing the measures.

UK opposition

The SMMT – which counts Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen as members – told the Commission that it should slow down the rate at which manufacturers are required to reduce emissions from new cars.

The current regulations require a reduction of around 5% per year up to 2021 and the Commission consulted on whether that rate should be maintained, increased or kept the same up to 2030.

The SMMT also called for a mid-term review in 2025 so that ambitions can be scaled back if it looks like the 2030 target won’t be met.

A reduction of 58% in emissions from new cars and vans is needed in order to meet the EU’s climate targets for 2030, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

A spokesperson for the SMMT told Unearthed:

“Like other stakeholders from industry, government and civil society, SMMT responded to the European Commission’s consultation on future CO2 targets. We sought to make clear that the automotive industry has delivered significant improvement in CO2 emissions over the past decade.”

“We recognise this must continue which will require significant additional investment both in new technologies – be they low emission petrol, diesel and alternatively fuelled vehicles including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen and pure electric vehicles – and, importantly, infrastructure.”

Electric vehicles

The SMMT also opposed measures requiring car companies to produce a minimum percentage of low emission and electric vehicles.

It said the policy “is not technology neutral, reduces flexibility and places industry at commercial risk – given unknown consumer acceptance”.

The comments were made in response to a public consultation by the European Commission last year.

Julia Poliscanova, an expert from the European think-tank Transport and Environment, said: “Today road transport is Europe’s biggest climate problem and this is the only EU-wide law that tackles carbon emissions from cars and vans.”

“The car industry wants to slow down the zero emissions revolution. They have the opportunity to transform themselves, but instead the industry is clinging to yesterday’s technology for as long as possible”.

The SMMT said: “We maintain a technology neutral approach and seek continued support from governments and other stakeholders, most notably energy and infrastructure providers, to give greater confidence to consumers to purchase ultra-low and zero emission vehicles in greater numbers.”

Oil lobby

Exxon Mobil also submitted a response to the Commission’s consultation, stating that promoting the market uptake of low-emission and zero-emission vehicles is “unimportant”.

A spokesperson for the company told Unearthed: “It is incorrect to say that ExxonMobil is seeking to prevent the EU promoting low emission vehicles.  We state clearly in the same document that we think it important that a CO2 target is set to help lower emissions from vehicles and that this should not be based just on the exhaust pipe emissions but on a full life cycle basis.”

“Our point is that there is no single solution to transport emissions and the EU’s ambitious target is more likely to be achievable by supporting a diverse range of low-emission mobility solutions, instead of choosing one technology over another. One example of an alternative is algae-based biofuels, which ExxonMobil is researching as a potential low-emission transport fuel for the future.”

 

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SMMT response in full

“Like other stakeholders from industry, government and civil society, SMMT responded to the European Commission’s consultation on future CO2 targets.

“We sought to make clear that the automotive industry has delivered significant improvement in CO2 emissions over the past decade. We recognise this must continue which will require significant additional investment both in new technologies – be they low emission petrol, diesel and Alternatively Fuelled Vehicles including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen and pure electric vehicles – and, importantly, infrastructure.

“We maintain a technology neutral approach and seek continued support from governments (in the form of long-term grants and fiscal incentives) and other stakeholders, most notably energy and infrastructure providers, to give greater confidence to consumers to purchase ultra-low and zero emission vehicles in greater numbers. The industry needs to remain viable to invest in these new technologies so the targets should align with the Commission’s own GHG ambitions for 2030 but be set by, i.e. before, 2019 to provide certainty for the industry.”