Car CO2 target proposals dominate Environment Council meeting

EU environment ministers debated proposed measures to tackle climate change at their Council meeting in June. Meanwhile, France and Germany have backed European Commission proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars.

EU environment ministers held an open meeting to discuss the European Commission’s package of proposals on climate and energy, which were issued in January (ENDS Report 397, p 46 ). Unusually, the meeting did not result in any new policy resolutions or agreements.1

  • Car emissions: The Council welcomed a French proposal for a long-term target to cut average CO2 emissions from new vehicles to 95g per kilometre. But it could not agree whether to make it mandatory, merely suggesting that the Commission’s proposals for tacking vehicle CO2 emissions should be amended to include a "roadmap" for reaching the long-term target.

    In the public debate, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said carmakers should be given more time to meet the proposed mandatory target to reduce average CO2 emissions from new cars to 130g/km by 2012 (ENDS Report 396, pp 45-46 ), and that it should be gradually phased in from 2012.

    But a few days later his boss Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the target in a joint statement with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.2 The two leaders said carmakers should be set individual targets on the basis of their market share and backed a 2020 target of 95-110g/km depending on the outcome of an impact assessment. In return there should be flexibility in the prosecution of carmakers, with those just missing their targets receiving less severe penalties.

  • EUETS: The Franco-German statement insisted that some of the revenue raised from auctioning allowances under the EU emissions trading scheme (EUETS) should be earmarked to support the transfer of low carbon technologies to developing countries. However some member states, led by the UK, strongly oppose this (ENDS Report 400, pp 32-35 ).

    The two leaders called for measures to protect EU industries covered by the EUETS from foreign competition, noting they would have to comply with World Trade Organization rules. They also urged the Commission to bring forward its assessment of sectors at risk of carbon leakage by a year to 2009.

  • Biofuels: Member states were also split over proposals to encourage the use of biofuels.3 The proposed renewables Directive requires biofuels to make up 10% of transport fuels by 2020 - up from 5% by 2010 (ENDS Report 397, pp 48-50 ).

    Many member states want the 10% target to be conditional on "sustainable, second-generation biofuels becoming commercially available". Second-generation biofuels would be made from wastes and thus save more greenhouse gases compared to conventional fuels than biodiesel or bioethanol.

    But other countries say such a condition would have the effect of discouraging investment in second-generation biofuels. They also argued that the proposed Directive already includes sustainability criteria that will ensure the 10% target does not lead to adverse environmental impacts.

    However, there was also disagreement over the criteria. These currently state that biofuels must achieve a 35% greenhouse gas saving compared to conventional fuels to be eligible for the target. This increases to 50% in 2015. All member states support the two-stage approach, but several want the targets lowered while others want them increased.

    The 10% target is also meeting significant opposition in the European Parliament. In May the Directive’s rapporteur, Green MEP Claude Turmes, called for the target to be lowered to 5% or 8% because it would impossible to achieve with strict sustainability criteria.

    Biofuels should achieve a minimum 50% greenhouse gas saving, he added, and the calculation of that saving needs to take better account of emissions from land use change. His proposals have the support of the Parliament’s largest group, the EPP.

  • Renewables: Member states were even more divided over the Directive’s proposals for the trading of renewable energy guarantees of origin (GOs) to meet national targets.

    The early signs are that the UK will be one of the member states that will have to buy such certificates in order to meet its national target (ENDS Report 400, p 15 ). The Directive says it should generate 15% of its energy from renewables by 2020. Several member states are concerned that there will not be enough GOs available to allow poor-performing countries to meet their targets.

    Others want countries to have the freedom to choose whether to opt in to a GO trading scheme because they are worried about "possible negative consequences" of trading, such as windfall profits for renewables generators or damage to national support schemes. Another issue is that a single price for GOs could prevent national support schemes from providing additional support to expensive renewables like solar PV.