We Europeans love our cars - there are over 216 million of them on the roads. The problem is they are choking the environment. As emitters of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) they contribute to global warming as gas rises and traps heat from the sunlight. The problem is the number of cars. In July this year a further 1.3 million new cars joined the roads. Overall the number of cars on Europe's roads has grown by 40% from 1990 to 2004 with CO2 emissions rising by a third.
Should car makers be solely responsible?
The man who drafted the report - British Liberal MEP Chris Davies - is very clear that "any legislation should specify technical standards to be met by manufacturers". He says the recent Frankfurt motor show demonstrated that the "technology already exists" to cut CO2 emissions. His report was drafted in response to "strategy paper" by the European Commission ahead of possible legislation later this year or early next. At present it covers vehicles below 3.5 metric tonnes. MEPs on the Environment Committee backed his proposal last Wednesday (9 September). The full Parliament will debate the report in the November Plenary session.
However, some voices believe that the problem should not solely be laid at the car manufacturer's door. UK Conservative Martin Callanan would like to see a combined effort from "fuel suppliers, consumers and government initiatives". He also believes that encouraging a "change in driving habits" (such as driving more smoothly instead of accelerating up to traffic lights) could have an impact.
Small CO2 cuts mean huge savings
As well as specific limits set by legislation, the report's backers want financial penalties and rewards for manufacturers who break or beat the Carbon targets. The idea they propose is use of the "Carbon Allowance Reduction System" (CARS) which they want to be operational by 2011.
Present voluntary reductions are on track to reach 150g CO2 per km by next year. So are we really doing so badly after all? Finnish Green MEP Satu Hassi doesn't think so. She believes every gram of CO2 counts. She estimates that a 10 gram per km reduction in the emissions of the 16 million new cars a year would mean "a saving of 2 million tons of CO2" per year.
Although cars have got much more efficient compared to past gas guzzlers, the numbers, weight and size of them has grown dramatically. Our cars are now almost a third more powerful than a decade ago - but are we driving any faster?
Further information :
- Press info 12 September
- Environment Committee
- Article on climate change: 8 February 07
- Car taxes: June 06
- European Commission Information
- Drive Smarter - save CO2