Europe accused of weak action on air pollution

29th October 2015

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  • Air ,
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  • Prevention & Control


Giles Dean

Campaigners have criticised European policymakers after two key decisions failed to take tough action on air pollution.

The EU technical committee on motor vehicles (TMCV) met yesterday to decide new rules for real driving emissions (RDE) tests, which will be introduced in 2017.

The VW scandal has highlighted flawed testing systems and led to calls for tougher action. Yet the TMCV, which comprises national experts from each EU state, agreed new limits from diesel cars that are double the 80mg/km of nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) introduced by the Euro 6 regulations in 2007.

It also agreed that the new tests would not apply to all cars until 2019, and, from 2021, that cars would be permanently permitted to emit 50% more NOx than under Euro 6.

The European parliament cannot amend the proposal as it is classed as a technical decision, though it can reject it outright. MEPs strongly supported stronger rules on testing in a vote in the European parliament on Tuesday, with 493 voting in favour of a resolution to introduce RDE tests by 2017 at the latest and only 145 voting against. MEPs also supported a ban on practices used by carmakers to rig test conditions, such as over-inflating tyres or removing wing mirrors.

Liberal democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, who is leading the negotiations for new EU air quality laws on behalf of the liberal ALDE group, called the TMCV decision a "shameful stitch-up" that put the interests of automotive companies ahead of people's health.

Campaign group T&E questioned the legality of the committee's decision, which was made behind closed doors under the comitology process. The UK, Germany, France and Spain are among countries that pushed for the weaker proposals, despite the fact that all are threatened with large fines for failing to meet air quality standards, says T&E.

The group's clean vehicles manager, Greg Archer, said: "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."

Meanwhile, the European parliament endorsed a proposal by the commission to reduce air polluting emissions across the EU for the next 15 years under the national emissions ceilings Directive.

The law will put national caps on six major pollutants: NOx, particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3) and non-methane volatile organic compounds.

MEPs voted to include ammonia and methane, despite lobbying from the agricultural sector, which is largely responsible for the emissions. However, enteric methane, which is produced by ruminant animals, has been exempted.

They also voted against including mercury, which comes largely from coal power plants. The European parliament has asked the commission to do an impact assessment before considering new proposals to reduce mercury.

Member states have until 2030 to meet the maximum limits, although binding interim targets for 2025 will be introduced.

Speaking to parliament, environment commissioner Karmenu Vella said that the cost of legislation on air pollution currently falls almost entirely on industry, transport and households, with agriculture paying only 2%.

"To move forward, sectors that have so far contributed little will need to do more. Agricultural emissions make the largest relative contribution to PM2.5 in Europe, through ammonia emissions", he said.

A major air pollution problem in Paris in the spring of 2014 was predominantly caused by agricultural pollution, he added.

Campaign group the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) criticised MEPs for not backing the more ambitious plan on air quality put forward by the parliament's environment committee in July. This would have prevented 42,899 more premature deaths every year than the commission's proposal, it said.

The text approved by the parliament will now go into three-way negotiations with the European commission and ministers for the environment ahead of a deal in the new year.


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