The EU's environment ministers have agreed on emissions and mileage regulations for small vans and other utility vehicles. But environmentalists say the new rules were largely influenced by Germany's strong car lobby.
Light trucks will be allowed to emit 147 grams CO2 per kilometer from 2020
Germany and the European Union's executive are praising an agreement among EU countries to tighten emissions rules for vehicles, but environmentalists are less convinced.
New regulations agreed on Monday require vans and other utility vehicles to reduce their rate of carbon emissions per kilometre over the next decade, in a bid to drive down the transport sector's share of greenhouse gasses.
European Union environment ministers stipulated that from 2020 onwards, vehicles weighing up to 3.5 tons will only be allowed to emit 147 grams of CO2 per kilometer, which translates into some 5.6 liters of diesel per kilometer. Today, light trucks are allowed to emit 200 grams per kilometer.
"It's a very good compromise on something that was a source of debate for a long time," said Norbert Roettgen, Germany's Environment Minister, adding that the new regulations will help the environment without placing too much of a burden on the car industry.
Hopes are that the decision will help create new jobs. Demand for fuel-saving engines will be on the rise over the next decade because of rising petrol prices, says Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). "In times of globalization a country's competitive edge will depend on their ability to build energy-saving products and vehicles," Kemfert told Deutsche Welle. "So Germany and Europe can gain a competitive advantage by launching these technologies first."
Ending a heated debate
Germany's environment minister says the new rules are a 'good compromise'
The issue has long been a point of conflict within the bloc, with Germany pushing for regulations not to go below 150 grams of CO2 per kilometer.
Together with the EU's two other major car-producing countries France and Italy, Germany had opposed stricter suggestions by the EU's executive, the European Commission.
The Commission had demanded limitations of 135 grams of CO2 per kilometer for light trucks, yet the EU's climate chief, Connie Hedegaard, also described the compromise as a step forward.
"We have got things that are definitely more ambitious than what the industry and the sector claimed that they could do," she said at a press conference. The European Parliament still has to approve the decision, with a vote expected in mid-January.
The new regulations could increase prices for small trucks by several thousand euros. Producers whose vehicles exceed the 147 grams per kilometer will have to pay a fine of 95 euros per gram per vehicle.
The regulations are staggered, so that by 2014 emissions for light trucks are supposed to go down to 175 grams of CO2 per kilometer.
Currently regulations are only in place for private cars. Their emissions are supposed to fall below 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2012.
Environmentalists say Germany's car lobby has again shown its strength
German car lobby
Environmentalists complained that the decision watered down what the European Commission proposed in 2009.
"It's very disappointing and yet another example of Germany preventing more progressive politics from being put in place", Wolfgang Lohbeck from Greenpeace told Deutsche Welle. "It shows that the German car lobby is very strong."
"You could argue that (Monday's) decision was in fact not that important," said Lohbeck, adding that small vans and other utility vehicles only make up about eight percent of all cars on German roads.
According to the German Environment Ministry, these vehicles are responsible for some six percent of CO2 emissions caused by traffic.
Environmentalists are now concerned, Lohbeck told Deutsche Welle, that the car lobby will continue to resist future decisions. The regulations for cars, which were introduced last year, will soon be reviewed again by the EU.
"I hope that Monday's decision was not a bad premonition for what they'll decide there," Lohbeck said.
Author: Nina Haase (dpa, AP)
Editor: Nathan Witkop