(Reuters) - The European Union’s chief climate official said on Tuesday there could be green conditions attached to any car scrappage schemes set up by the bloc to revive vehicle demand following the coronavirus pandemic.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, is facing calls from carmakers for incentives to boost vehicle sales, which have slumped amid lockdown measures to fight the virus outbreak.
Meanwhile, politicians, investors and campaigners are piling pressure on the EU to use green investments to restart growth and deliver on climate targets.
EU climate commissioner Frans Timmermans said on Tuesday the bloc could heed both calls.
“We see the automotive industry asking us to help them, by helping households to afford a new car,” Timmermans said in a videocall with EU lawmakers.
“But why don’t we do this with ecological scrappage schemes, replacing an old and dirty car with a cleaner, even zero emission one?”
With Europe headed for a steep recession this year, carmakers fear consumers and transport operators will be unable to afford new vehicles.
Lockdown measures have also forced firms to scale back production, although some - including German carmakers Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz - plan to reawaken some European plants this week.
Attaching green strings to cash-for-clunkers schemes would help boost factories while removing the most polluting cars from Europe’s roads, Timmermans said.
“It’s good for the car industry, it’s good for jobs, and it’s good for the environment.”
European carmaker lobby ACEA called last week for EU measures to stir vehicle sales.
“A dedicated EU-wide fleet renewal scheme for all vehicle categories would be needed to help re-launch demand for the latest vehicle technologies,” ACEA said in a statement.
But campaigners warned that without clear climate rules from Brussels, scrappage schemes could support demand for polluting vehicles.
“The European Commission must issue clear, binding guidance to member states that state aid such as scrappage schemes must target the sales of zero-emission vehicles,” Julia Poliscanova, clean vehicles director at NGO Transport and Environment, told Reuters.
Timmermans said the EU would have an “open ear and an open mind” for industries facing serious challenges.
But he warned that the Commission’s Green Deal plan, to make the EU climate neutral by 2050, is not a luxury that can be tossed aside because of the pandemic.
“It would be a dereliction of duty, not to insist on the Green Deal as a growth strategy to get us out of this crisis,” he said.
Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama