EU car emissions test proposals a ‘disgraceful stitch-up’

EU Member States reportedly agree increase in permitted levels of NO2 in proposed real-world car emissions tests

EU Member States reportedly agreed to double pollution limits in proposed real-world driving emissions tests today (October 28) in a move described as a “shameful stitch-up” by one UK MEP.

The EU is currently finalising proposals to bring in real world driving emissions tests

The EU is currently finalising proposals to bring in real world driving emissions tests

At a behind-closed-doors EU meeting today, national vehicle experts from EU countries agreed to increase the permitted limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions from cars previously set out in proposals for European Real Driving Emissions (RDE) tests.

Slated for introduction from 2017, the proposed RDE test procedure is designed to better reflect actual driving on the road compared to the current laboratory tests, which have been shown to vastly underestimate the levels of pollutants emitted from car exhausts.

Member States agreed today that the divergence between regulatory emissions limit measured in laboratories and that measured on the road in real driving conditions is around 400% on average.

However, the decision was taken at the EU’s Technical Committee on Motor Vehicles (TCMV) that the new RDE test procedure will only apply to some new types of cars from 2017, and should not apply to all new cars on European roads until 2019 in order to give manufacturers more time to meet the stricter tests.

But the decision means that from 2021, all cars will be permanently permitted to emit over 50% more nitrogen oxide (NOx) than under the current Euro 6 limits agreed in 2007 of 80mg/km, critics suggest.

The European Commission said the agreement to end laboratory measuring still represented a “significant reduction compared to the current discrepancy (400% on average)”.

But UK Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder described the Committee’s decision as “shameful”.

It follows today’s agreement in the European Parliament for proposed national limits on six key pollutants — including ammonia and methane — to be met by binding targets of 2025 and 2030 (see story).

She commented today: “It is disgraceful that just as MEPs were voting for stricter pollution limits, national governments were agreeing behind closed doors to water them down. This is a shameful stitch-up which once again puts the interests of carmakers ahead of people’s health.

“The technology to cut diesel emissions is already available and affordable. The public should not have to wait another five years for strict limits to reduce deadly pollution.”

‘Cynical move’

Also reacting to the news, environmental law NGO ClientEarth said the decision was a “shockingly cynical move”.

Discussions over the new RDE test have been ongoing alongside the scandal over German carmaker Volkswagen’s admission last month that it fraudulently fixed emissions tests for some of its diesel vehicles. The company today reported its first quarterly loss in at least 15 years as a result of the scandal.

ClientEarth clean air lawyer Alan Andrews said: “Car manufacturers have failed to hit air pollution limits on diesel cars and instead of trying to sort the problem, they have been told: ‘that’s alright, we’ll just lower the bar.’

“The European Parliament must veto this or it will make a mockery out of the whole EU law-making process, which is already under the spotlight following the VW scandal. If allowed to stand, there is no doubt this decision will cost lives. It is appalling that the interests of car companies are being put above people’s health.”

Another European NGO, Transport & Environment, also criticised the move, which it said came “after the European Commission unexpectedly agreed to substantially weaken its proposals”, adding that the TCMV is “supposed to only agree to technical changes to regulations”.

Greg Archer, clean vehicles manager at Transport & Environment, said: “Citizens will wonder why their governments would rather help carmakers that cheat emissions tests than give them clean air to breathe. This disgraceful and legally questionable decision must be rejected by the European Parliament. It seems governments would rather citizens die as a result of diesel exhaust emissions than require carmakers to fit technology typically costing €100.”

‘Robust methods’

The European Commission, while welcoming the agreement for more “robust testing methods”, also said it would be “listening to the many views expresses and ideas put forward” on the new RDE test.

Today’s agreement by Member States on the allowed divergence between the regulatory limit measured in real driving conditions and measured in laboratory conditions is still a significant reduction compared to the current discrepancy (400% on average).

Commissioner Elżbieta BieÅ„kowska – responsible for internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs – said: “The EU is the first and only region in the world to mandate these robust testing methods. And this is not the end of the story. We will complement this important step with a revision of the framework regulation on type-approval and market surveillance of motor vehicles.

“We are working hard to present a proposal to strengthen the type-approval system and reinforce the independence of vehicle testing. We are listening to the many views expressed and ideas put forward, and I thank the European Parliament in particular for its valuable input.”

The draft comitology test procedure – which will use PEMS (portable emission measuring systems) – regulation will now be sent to the European Parliament and the Council for regulatory scrutiny.

What the agreement means

The limits and timetable agreed for the RDE testing regulations mean that car manufacturers must reduce the divergence between the regulatory limit that is tested in laboratory conditions and the values of the RDE procedure when the car is driven by a real driver on a real road (the so-called ‘conformity factor’) in two steps:

  • in a first step, car manufacturers will have to bring down the discrepancy to a conformity factor of maximum 2.1 (110%) for new models by September 2017 (for new vehicles by September 2019);
  • in a second step, this discrepancy will be brought down to a factor of 1.5 (50%), taking account of technical margins of error, by January 2020 for all new models (by January 2021 for all new vehicles).


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