The average new car in the EU-15 was releasing almost 12% less CO2 in 2003 than it did in 1995, according to a Commission report. But pressure is growing, especially from Berlin, to push automakers to make further cuts. To steer clear of the threat of EU legislation, European, Japanese and Korean car makers have committed to reduce CO2 emissions from new passenger cars to an average of 140 grams per kilometre (g/km) in 2008 (2009 for Asian makers). The deal was sealed by ACEA, the European automotive industry association, in a voluntary agreement signed with the Commission in 1999. The ultimate objective is to reduce emissions to 120 g/km in 2012.

Reports are being produced on a yearly basis by the Commission to monitor the implementation of the agreement.

Transport - including automotive and aviation - is widely acknowledged to be the fastest rising source of CO2 emissions worldwide. According to the Commission, road transport generates more than one fifth of all CO2 emissions in the EU.

Carmakers have succeeded in cutting CO2 emissions by 11.8% between 1995 and 2003, the Commission announced on 23 June in an annual report monitoring CO2 emissions from new passenger cars.

The figures in the report - which apply for year 2003 - show European manufacturers were polluting the least, with 163 grams of CO2 emitted on average every kilometre (g/km). By comparison, Japanese cars emitted an average of 172 g/km and Korean 179 g/km.

However, all carmakers are off-track in terms of meeting their own target set for 2008/9 which is to reduce average CO2 emissions to 140 g/km. According to the report, the pace in reducing emissions is currently below the 2% average per annum needed to meet the target and should be updated as follows if it is to be met:

2.8% for ACEA (European makers association)
3.1% for JAMA (Japanese makers association)
3.6% for KAMA (Korean makers association)
Positions:

In a press statement, the Commission said that "major additional efforts will be required in the coming years in order to deliver the target to which the industry has committed itself". Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas added: "To respect the Kyoto commitments and reduce our oil dependence, we must reduce CO2 emissions from transport, the sector whose emissions keep growing."

In a special report published on 17 June, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) - a government body - blamed the Commission for allowing carmakers to exceed limit values for Particulate Matter (PM) and CO2. It criticises the industry's voluntary target to reduce emissions to 120 g/km by 2012 as being too modest, saying a target of a 100 g/km is achievable by that date. It therefore proposes an "innovation forcing strategy" to push carmakers embarking on the "global competitive race for improved environmental performance of vehicles". The measures it proposes include:

Tradeable emission standards linked to the EU emissions trading directive;
CO2-based vehicle taxation;
Efficiency-indexed fuel prices increases in order to prevent rebound effects from increased fuel-efficiency.
The European Federation for transport and the environment (T&E) says that the report, although carefully worded, suggests that European makers (ACEA) will not meet the 2008 target.

Jos Dings, director of T&E: "In plain English - ACEA isn't going to make it - and the timing is all part of their strategy to weaken future targets after 2008, when the current commitment ends". Dings says the strategy is to show that existing commitments for 2008 are already too tough in order that a better deal can be reached for the next commitment deadline.

"This development again demonstrates that voluntary commitments are toothless. It's clear that we need a strong and legally-binding follow up. The inefficiency of cars is unacceptable when emissions from transport continue to rise and oil imports are increasingly burdening the economy."

Green MEPs in Parliament went further in criticising carmakers and the Commission: "Now it sounds like the car manufacturers are not even trying to meet their commitment. Clearly the Commission is failing to deliver policies and legislation to deliver on the political commitments made over the past ten years," said Claude Turmes MEP.

ACEA came under further attack by the World Resources Institute (WRI) which stated in April that European car companies were not fully disclosing their strategies to comply with the voluntary agreement on CO2 reduction. "The problem with the ACEA Agreement is that nobody knows what the auto companies are planning to do to bring the industry to its 2008 target," said WRI's Amanda Sauer.

"It is unacceptable that, with only three years left to comply with the ACEA Agreement, auto companies have done little to disclose in their annual reports to investors how they plan to meet this voluntary target," Sauer added. According to the WRI, this means investors cannot make informed decisions because they do not know the relative cost exposure of the automakers.

The European Automotive Manufacturers Association (ACEA) was not directly available for comment.