Greens cry foul as Germany pushes to rework EU emission limis
German government proposals to bank super-credits until after 2020 are condemned as a ‘cheap accounting trick’
Workers at the Audi plant in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Assuming that the science is right and that human-derived carbon dioxide is largely responsible for the shift in global climate, then the transport industry still has much work to do to bring its emissions levels down; and, in a European sense, it did seem that the recent agreement in the European Parliament to limit average vehicle CO2 emissions to 95g/km by 2020 was a good step forward. It should do a lot to reduce the impact of private car usage on the environment.
Rather predictably, though, as with almost any European agreement, the fighting and lobbying has already begun. Last week the German government tabled a proposal that would allow super-credits to be banked.
Super-credits are the controversial measure that allows car-makers to count ultra-low emissions vehicles as extra, to balance out the emissions from larger, more polluting vehicles. So, if you build one electric car, with zero emissions, you’re allowed to count it as 1.3 cars in your CO2 ledger, allowing you to offset an extra third of the emissions of one of your bigger cars. Build three electric cars and, hey presto, you’ve built up enough super-credit to allow you to build one big, high-CO2 car effectively for free.
Those in favour of super-credits see them as a useful spur to aid electric car development, but environmental campaigners see them as a cheap accounting trick, allowing the car-makers to duck the new regulations.
The German proposal would allow such credits to be banked against future production. Thus, a car-maker could build a lot of low-emissions vehicles now and keep those super-credits beyond the 2020 cutoff, a move that has sent the green lobby into apoplexy.
“The proposal talks about ‘a restriction on the impact of super-credits’ and says manufacturers would have to achieve lower targets from 2021 in return for using banked credits,” said Franziska Achterberg, the EU transport policy director for Greenpeace. “But the proposed values are no more than what manufacturers would have to do anyway – assuming that the next target is set no higher than about 80-85g CO2/km by 2025.”
“The proposal also talks about Germany accepting ‘a non-binding range’ for post-2020 fleet targets – but leaves it open at what level this would be set, and for which year. Clearly, Germany does not accept Parliament’s proposals here and would rather negotiate weaker targets. Germany would obtain not only a greater weakening of the 95g/km target but also introduce the principle of banking, which would undermine future targets as well. This is what happens with loopholes.”
Greg Archer, of environmental pressure group Transport Environment, agrees. “This proposal is a desperate attempt by Germany to gain support for discredited banking proposals that have been rejected in the European Parliament and by a large majority of member states,” he said in a statement.
Major factors at play
There are some major factors at play here beyond the green lobby, however. The first and foremost one is that pretty much every car manufacturer is seeing its European sales fall and won’t, therefore, be keen to make the technology investment needed to hit the new targets, with or without super-credits. There are serious worries that if Europe demands more than the car-makers are willing to give, they’ll simply concentrate on less-CO2-obsessed markets such as the US and China, and production – and jobs – will begin to migrate towards those markets.
“Any discussions on new regulatory requirements for the industry must reflect the current economic situation,” said Ivan Hodac, secretary general of the European car makers’ association ACEA. “Considering that most automobile manufacturers are losing money in Europe, the industry needs as supportive and competitive a regulatory framework as possible in order to retain its technological and environmental edge, and to keep production in Europe.”
There is also a major political dimension to all this. Angela Merkel is gunning for re-election to the chancellorship of Germany in the autumn of this year, and that must surely be a major driver of this proposal. After all, Merkel will be keen to see that the ballot for her Christian Democratic Union party isn’t upset in the big car-making towns of Stuttgart, Munich and Frankfurt.
Ireland still has a part to play in all this. Our EU Council presidency still has a few days to run, and it would do Enda Kenny’s reputation in Europe no harm at all if he were able to get a final, binding decision made on the 2020 CO2 limits and super-credits before the baton is passed. It seems unlikely, though. With the German government keen to placate a significant part of its electorate, and the French and Italian car industries keen to keep their costs under control against the background of their falling sales and spiralling losses, don’t bet on future CO2 limits being wrapped up and confirmed any time soon.