Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted on 27 March plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and vans by 2030, already informally agreed with EU ministers.

MEPs and EU ministers have agreed on a higher target (37.5%) to reduce EU fleet-wide emissions for new cars by 2030, compared to the European Commission’s proposed target (30%), the European Parliament said in a press release, adding that the legislation also sets a CO2 reduction target for new vans (31%) by 2030.

“As Parliament, we strongly fought to safeguard the environmental integrity of the proposal and bring real health, consumer and innovation benefits to European citizens,” rapporteur Liberal and Democrat Maltese MEP Miriam Dalli said. “We achieved this legislation, despite fierce opposition from the car industry and certain Member States, which refused to acknowledge the opportunities that stem from a more ambitious target,” she added.

ALDE shadow rapporteur MEP Nils Torvalds from Finland welcomed the final adoption of the legislation on 27 March, which will help to reduce CO2 emissions, improve air quality and reduce fuel costs for consumers. “While I regret the agreement falls short of what will be needed to respect the Paris Agreement and to reach the EU’s own 2030 targets cost-effectively, it is nevertheless the best possible result given the circumstances,” Torvalds said. “Liberal and Democrat MEPs are committed to standing on an ambitious environmental platform in May’s European elections. We have to keep up the fight for ambitious CO2 reduction targets across the board in Europe if we are to deliver on our COP21 commitments,” he added.

The legislation was adopted with 521 votes to 63 and 34 abstentions. It now requires a final adoption by Council.

The new CO2 standards are part of the clean mobility package and a stepping-stone towards a modernised, and more competitive European transport sector, and the road towards a climate-neutral economy in line with the EU’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. The new rules contribute to implementing the Commission priority of a resilient Energy Union and a forward-looking climate change policy.

Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete hailed the tougher CO2 standards for cars and vans, saying the vote on 27 March sends a very clear message: mobility and the transport sector has a crucial role to play in Europe’s transition towards a climate-neutral economy.

“The new targets and incentives will help EU industry embrace innovation towards zero-emission mobility and further strengthen its global leadership in clean vehicles. At the same time, the gradual transition will allow sufficient time for reskilling and upskilling of workers, so that no one is left behind in this transition. Consumers will save money at the pump, and cleaner cars also mean less pollution and cleaner air for all Europeans,” the Commissioner said.

According to the European Parliament, manufacturers whose average emissions exceed the limits will have to pay an excess emissions premium. By 2023, the European Commission will have to evaluate whether or not to allocate these amounts to a specific fund in order to transition towards zero-emission mobility and to support skills formation for workers in the automotive sector.

The new law demands that the full lifecycle of emissions from cars should be assessed at the EU level. The Commission will also have to evaluate whether to have a common methodology for the assessment and consistent data reporting, by no later than 2023. If appropriate, legislation should follow.

Transport is the only sector in the EU that did not record any significant decline in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 1990, the Parliament said. Figures from the European Environment Agency show that of all means of transport in the EU, road transport generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions (72.9 % in 2016), and is responsible for around 20% of the EU’s total GHG emissions.

“Dieselgate” scandal

In a resolution adopted with 301 votes to 181 and 42 abstentions, MEPs said on March 28 “obstructive behaviour” from the Commission on access to information Member states and carmakers must be held accountable and coordinate on urgent action needed to tackle the car emissions scandal.

Emergency measures should be taken by member states to recall or withdraw a large number of highly polluting cars from the market. They should also coordinate with manufacturers to proceed with mandatory hardware retrofits to cut nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions and clean up the existing fleet, MEPs said, fearing that the legacy of highly polluting diesel vehicles remains largely unsolved, and will continue to deteriorate air quality for many years to come if no effective coordinated action is taken.

MEPs note that, while the Commission launched infringement procedures against several member states more than two years ago for their failure to impose sanctions (in the case of the Volkswagen group) and set up penalty systems to deter car manufacturers from violating car emission legislation, it has not pushed beyond the stage of seeking further information. Procedures are still ongoing against Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

Some member states appear not to be cooperating seriously with the Commission in this regard, MEPs add, and call on them to provide all information required so the Commission can deliver its report addressing the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry into Emission Measurement in the Automotive Sector (EMIS).

They condemn the “obstructive behaviour” from the European Commission that has slowed down the inquiry process, and its refusal to grant public access to positions of member states in technical meetings constituted maladministration, according to the European Ombudsman.

MEPs note that in the United States, Dieselgate victims have received between $5,000 and $10,000 in compensation payments, while European consumers are still waiting for proper compensation.

After the vote, Dutch Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, author for the ALDE Group of the joint political text, called for a full and proper response from the European Commission to the conclusion of our inquiry committee on Dieselgate, without further delays. “This goes beyond air quality, this is a matter of democratic accountability. This is the right thing to do, we have to learn from the mistakes in the past,” he said. “We never cleaned up the mess of Dieselgate. There are still millions of fraudulent diesel cars driving around European cities. What we need is a strong coordinated response,” he added.

He reminded that individual Member States are taking unilateral measures in such a way that they might get rid of these cars from their own territories, only for them to be exported to other EU countries. “This remains a European problem. The only institution that can come up with a solution is the European Commission,” he said, calling for removing these cars from the road and ensuring they comply with European legislation.