EU lawmakers set to halt carbon curbs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers are set to slam the brakes on plans to curb carbon dioxide emissions from cars, easing the burden on the auto industry in the fight against climate change, documents circulated on Tuesday showed.

Cars drive along a road in central Brussels, February 7, 2007. REUTERS/Yves Herman

A draft European Parliament resolution would delay and soften the mandatory emissions limits proposed by the executive European Commission, reduce the fines for non-compliance and give carmakers a freer hand on how they achieve the cuts.

A vote by parliament’s environment committee on Thursday could set the legislature’s position in negotiations with member governments on the highly contentious plan, in a potential victory for Germany’s powerful automobile sector.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has fought to soften the Commission plan on behalf of German automakers, who specialize in heavy luxury vehicles with high emissions.

While the proposals are not yet final, they already have enough backing from the dominant conservative and socialist groups to pass largely unchanged, lawmakers said.

“This is guaranteed to go through as it is,” British Liberal member Chris Davies told Reuters. “But it is not ambitious enough. Just at the time MEPs should be putting steady pressure on the accelerator, they are instead putting on the brakes.”

The Commission proposed capping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new cars at an average of 130 grams per km in 2012 across the fleet, compared with a current EU average of 158g.

Other improvements such as better tires, gears and air conditioning should bring the overall level down to 120g.

But Italian socialist Guido Sacconi, in charge of steering the law through parliament, has proposed a gradual phase-in, starting with 70 percent of each manufacturer’s fleet complying in 2012, rising to 100 percent compliance in 2015.

The maximum fine for non-compliance would be 50 euros ($73.84) per gram/km for each car in the fleet, down from the 95 euros proposed by the Commission.

Carmakers have fought for such a phase-in, saying they need time to change and the EU is putting thousands of manufacturing jobs at risk by rushing in to protect the environment when no other industrial nations are following suit.

Cars contribute about 14 percent of EU output of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and curbing them is seen as key to the bloc’s goal of cutting CO2 emissions by a fifth by 2020.

Environmentalists say large parts of each manufacturers fleet are already close to the targets, so a phase-in would render the legislation ineffective for a further three years.


“This would basically be a postponement to 2015, giving the car industry all it wants,” said Dudley Curtis of environment campaign group T&E.

The draft resolution would also allow car makers to reduce 7 percent of CO2 emissions through “eco-innovations” such as solar panels on car roofs, equivalent to about 9g of the 130g target -- much higher than envisioned in talks among member states.

A long-term goal of cutting emissions to 95g by 2020 would be legally strengthened, but it would be subject to an impact assessment in 2014 to take account of new technologies.

But while environmentalists cried foul, a senior Commission official said it was up to lawmakers and member states to reach a compromise that achieved the EU’s long term goals.

“Sometimes in the EU system, you have to propose 100 to get 80. I never had illusions. I always thought at the end we’d get an intermediate solution taking into account the interests of the car sector and the environment,” the official said.

Reporting by Pete Harrison, editing by Paul Taylor and Anthony Barker