You’re Bothering Us With This Carbon Dioxide Business, You Know.

The ACEA calls on the EU to ‘rebalance’ its attitude to carbon dioxide emissions.

Carlos Ghosn asking for an easier time of it: ACEA.be
Carlos Ghosn asking for an easier time of it: ACEA.be

It’s not hard to guess the rebalancing is not in the direction of an even more stringent approach to reducing carbon emissions. Carlos Ghosn said “As Paris and the world gear up for the COP21 global climate change conference, we must make sure that ambitious climate change policies do not conflict with the need to protect jobs and growth in Europe.” The next interesting bit is this “By 2020 average emissions of new passenger cars will need to be reduced by 39% compared to their 2005 level.

This compares to 10% reduction expected from other non-ETS sectors and 21% reduction expected from ETS sectors during the same timeframe. Presently, CO2 reduction from road transport relies entirely on progress made in controlling emissions from new vehicles, even though new registrations make up just 5% of the fleet every year. The FTI study found that this system manages to be both expensive and ineffective because it does not address the bulk of the vehicles already on the roads. As it is, meeting the 95g CO2 target will cost manufacturers an estimated €1,000-2,000 per car by 2020.”

Very planet friendly - 1988 Rolls Royce Silver Spur: barret-jackson.com
Very planet friendly – 1988 Rolls Royce Silver Spur: barret-jackson.com

I’d take issue with that figure for a variety of reasons. Engineers are very good at improving processes. If they weren’t we’d still be driving Ford Anglias. Second, the cost can be recouped through a variety of mechanisms involving tax law and tweaks to the market. The important thing is that the cost is the same for all manufacturers thus there is no competitive disadvantage. Throwing a spanner in this might be the disputed TTIP treaty which aims to remove non-tarriff barriers to trade.

Fuel efficiency could be something the lawyers will jump on as constituting a non-tarriff barrier. On the other hand, the EU is not about to enforce tough carbon reduction rules on its car builders and then simply roll over and let US lawyers rip them apart in the name of compliance with the TTIP. Issues such as this are making the TTIP look ever more unlikely in its current form.

Perhaps a site devoted to cars is an odd place to find someone concerned about climate change. My attitude is that some aspects of the last century’s fascination with cars has been of huge interest, the costs now seem unsupportable. I think that instead of complaining about the targets set by the EU, the ACEA should look to the example of the Japanese. In the 1970s the US Federal government began implementing regulations on emissions and fuel economy. The Japanese simply knuckled down and applied them.

The Big Three sent in lawyers and lobbyists to resist the regulations and did as little as possible to produce the desired changes. When the oil crises of ’73 and ’79 came, it was the Japanese who were in a position to sell competitive and economical cars while the Big Three’s bottom line was savaged. Another example is from the period when regulations came into force to reduce sulphur dioxide from power plants. Despite complaints about the impossibility of achieving these goals, when forced to comply, the power industry solved the problem so effectively that sulphur dioxide pollution permits were quickly worthless.

Engineers are very talented people and market mechanisms can produce incredible results, so long as there is a level playing field. I happen to think that the market is robust and flexible enough to find ways to make money under almost any circumstances. EU goals, applied across the board, are nothing that engineers and accountants can’t handle and I’d be more impressed if instead of complaining the ACEA set about being constructive.

My main doubt is that reducing fuel consumption of individual vehicles reduces overall fuel consumption as effectively as price increases. The Dutch have found that cars’ increased efficiency means people travel more kilometres than before. If you make a car capable of travelling 20% further on a tank of petrol, people won’t spend 20% less, they’ll travel 20% further.

What we need are cars as thirsty as Silver Shadows and petrol costing twice the price. Then we’ll se a reduction in car use. But then it might actually be fun.

If you want to read the entire report, it’s here.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

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