The European Commission has sent a shot across the bows of industries that refuse to stick to voluntary targets on curbing carbon emissions, with proposed legislation that will force carmakers to slash CO2 emissions from new cars by 18 percent by 2012.
The new legislation, which was unveiled yesterday, will set legally binding targets to ensure the average new car emits no more than 130g of carbon per kilometre, a sizable reduction on the 162g per kilometre emitted by the average new car in 2005.
The legislation represents something of a compromise after original targets of 120g per kilometre proposed by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas were rejected last month following ferocious lobbying from car manufacturers and opposition from Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen who argued it would result in jobs being sent overseas.
However, the recent UN report on the seriousness of climate change appears to have stiffened the Commission's and it is now committed to pushing through legally-binding targets in the wake of manufacturers failure to meet a voluntary target of reducing emissions to 140g per kilometre by next year.
Verheugen said the new strategy "hit the right balance between the need for global competitiveness and progress in safety and environmental performance".
The Commission said that the 130g/km average would not apply to each individual manufacturer, but to the industry as a whole.
It also claimed that the new strategy would be based on "an integrated approach", involving not only engine technology, but also technological improvements such as setting mimimum requirements for air-conditioning systems, the compulsory fitting of tyre pressure monitoring systems, setting maximum tyre rolling resistance limits and increased use of bio-fuels, which it hopes will drive emissions nearer to the original 120g/km target.
However, precise details are still to be released and it is unclear how the Commission will police firms that fail to meet the new targets.
Environmentalists bemoaned the compromised target as evidence of the car lobby's success and insisted it did not go far enough. Friends of the Earth said that the European Commission should have stuck to its original target. "The 120g/km target is feasible," said Tony Bosworth, transport campaigner at the lobby group. "Some new technology might be needed, but car manufacturers need to make best use of existing technology and stop the move towards bigger, heavier, more powerful cars."
However, despite some anger at the watering down of the legislation the new targets are likely to serve as a major warning to other sectors, including the air and electrical equipment industries, that failure to work towards voluntary goals on emissions will result in more stringent legislation and that arguments about damage to international competitiveness no longer hold the power they once did.
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