Car manufacturers secured a major victory over European regulation on carbon emissions on Monday (1 December), winning the prospect of delayed deadlines and lower fines.
European Parliament and member state negotiators struck a deal that will see firms forced to cut carbon emissions from 65 percent their fleet of new cars emits by 2012 down to 130 grammes per kilometre down from the current average of 158 grammes.
In the European Commission's original car emission reduction proposals, which have been all but gutted, the companies were to have introduced the reductions on all cars sold in the EU by 2012. Instead, there will be a phase-in to allow car companies to adjust.
According to the deal, by 2013, 75 percent of a fleet must meet the 130 gramme standard, by 2014 80 percent and only in 2015 must the entire fleet of vehicles produced by a firm conform.
In 1998, the firms already successfully fought off legislation on emissions by promising instead to voluntarily cut CO2 from cars to 140 grammes per kilometre by 2008.
However, to make up for the more lax schedule, a secondary cut-off of 95 grammes per kilometre must be reached by 2020. There had been no secondary standard in the commission's proposals.
The fines for breaching the 130 gramme per kilometre ceiling have also been reduced.
The commission had originally pushed for €95 across the board from 2012, but under the deal, firms will now be fined five euros per car for the first gramme that exceeds the limit, €15 euros for the second gramme and €25 for the third.
For four grammes and above, car companies will be fined €95 for each gramme. After 2018, however, the €95 fine will be imposed on the very first gramme that breaches the cut-off.
As a result of the dilution of the law, emissions by 2012 will actually climb to an average of 164.5 grammes per kilometre, and by 2015, 139 grammes per kilometre—a reduction of only two percent on current levels.
Germany in particular has argued that its firms, which produce heavier, more polluting vehicles than French and Italian companies, were disadvantaged by the legal proposals.
But cleaner transport campaigners are dejected at the details of the new compromise, which must still be approved by a plenary session of the European Parliament and by member state governments.
"The car industry, backed by the major car producing countries has managed to kill a car fuel-efficiency law in Europe for the second time in a decade," said Jos Dings of Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based environmental group.
"The story of this law is the story of special interests in industry and national governments preserving the status quo," the campaigner added.
The commission too is less than happy with the outcome. "We will have to look at the impact of this proposal, especially from an environmental point of view. The phase-in is problematic," said one commission official.
"We are not happy with the phase-in, but the long-term [2020 ceiling of 95 grammes] will help us to achieve our targets," the official added.