Trends in reducing CO2 emissions from passenger cars

The European Union institutions have put in place a comprehensive legal framework to address the problems of high CO2 emissions produced by transport and ensure the EU meets its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The legislation sets binding emission targets for new car and van fleets. For cars, manufacturers are obliged to ensure that their new car fleet does not emit more than an average of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g CO2/Km) by 2015 and 95g by 2021. For vans, the mandatory target is 175 g CO2/Km by 2017 and 147g by 2020.

To help reach these targets, the regulation from 2009 has established ‘super credits’, as well as penalties. The super credits give manufacturers additional incentives to produce vehicles with extremely low emissions (below 50g/km). Each low-emitting car is counted as 3.5 vehicles in 2012 and 2013, 2.5 in 2014, 1.5 vehicles in 2015 and then 1 vehicle from 2016 to 2019. Super-credits will also apply in the second stage of emission reductions, from 2020 to 2023. Penalty payments are imposed, on the other hand, for excess emissions. If the average CO2 emissions of a manufacturer's fleet exceed its limit value in any year from 2012, the manufacturer has to pay an excess emissions premium for each car registered. This premium amounts to €5 for the first g/km exceeded, €15 for the second g/km, €25 for the third g/km, and €95 for each subsequent g/km.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has reported in April this year on some progress already made. According to EEA, cars sold in 2013 were 4 % more efficient than the year before, based on provisional data. The average CO2 emission level of a new car sold in 2013 was 127 grams of CO2 per kilometre, below the 2015 target of 130g.

The EEA also found out that the main drivers of efficiency have been technological improvements and higher sales of diesel cars, which typically have lower emissions levels than petrol equivalents. Also, there were 11.8 million new cars registered in the EU in 2013, whereas in 2007 15.5 million vehicles were registered. Clearly, the financial crisis and the higher oil prices in the past years have contributed to these trends. The EEA notes finally divergent tendencies between the different EU member states. On average, the most efficient cars were bought in the Netherlands (109g CO2/km), Greece (111g) and Portugal (112g) while the country selling the least efficient cars was Latvia (147g) followed by Estonia (147g) and Bulgaria (142g). The biggest cars, measured by mass, were bought in Latvia, Sweden and Luxembourg.

In April this year the European Parliament and the Council amended the 2009 Regulation and defined the modalities for reaching the 2020 target to reduce CO2 emissions from new passenger cars.

The EU is undertaking a number of additional intitiatives to stimulate the uptake of clean vehicles, such as the Clean Vehicle Portal, which provides information about the lifetime cost of a vehicle and estimates how environment-friendly it is. Polis is part of the consortium and is keeping you regularly updated on the development of the portal.

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