(CN) – In an effort to reduce greenhouse gases and spur the manufacturing of electric cars, European lawmakers and leaders are debating how much to tighten carbon emissions on new cars and vans in the near future.
On Wednesday, the European Council and the European Parliament were meeting to set new caps on emissions. The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, will also be involved. New standards are expected by early next year.
European governments are under increasing pressure to do more to fight climate change and combat air pollution.
Europe's automakers, though, warn that the stricter standards will hurt their businesses and consumers. About 15 million autos are sold each year in the EU.
Late Tuesday, European environmental ministers meeting in Luxembourg agreed to stricter standards and to providing automakers incentives for making more electric vehicles.
The council called for 35 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 for new cars and a 30 percent reduction for vans by 2030. By 2025, the council wants cars and vans to emit 15 percent fewer emissions.
“It sets the European automotive industry on track to build cleaner cars, invest more in innovation, and report more reliable emission data,” the European Council said Wednesday in a news release.
The European Parliament last week voted for even more drastic standards: a 40 percent CO2 reduction by 2030. The two bodies are now working on new standards.
Environmental groups were dissatisfied with the European Council's proposals and said they did not go far enough.
Greg Archer with Transport & Environment, an environmental policy group, called it “disappointing for the planet” and charged that EU leaders were more interested in “putting carmakers interests first despite the dire warning of the effects of dangerous climate change.”
Germany – home to BMW, Volkswagen and other major auto manufacturers – resisted the tightened controls and argued for a 30 percent reduction. But its environment minister agreed to proposed stricter standards.
The German environmental ministry did not immediately return a message from Courthouse News seeking comment Wednesday.
Erik Jonnaert, the secretary general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, said in a statement that even the “less aggressive” targets set by the environment ministers “still risk having a negative impact” on the auto industry and its workers as well as on consumers.
Jonnaert said the industry was committed to reducing emissions and developing electric cars.
The trade group was highly critical of the EU parliament's vote for even tougher emissions standards and a provision to make manufacturers meet quotas on electric vehicle sales. It warned that meeting those rules would require a dramatic and unrealistic transformation of the industry.
The automakers say recharging stations for electric cars are “severely lacking” and that consumers are not given enough incentives to buy more expensive battery-powered cars. Electric vehicles make up a very small, but growing, portion of car sales in the EU.
Europe's steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists warn are a main cause of climate change, come as political leaders are being warned about catastrophic consequences for inaction.
On Monday, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a dire report and warned that the world needed to take unprecedented steps to stave off catastrophe.
The EU has taken a leading role in upholding a 2015 Paris agreement which aims to keep global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. President Donald Trump took the United States out of the agreement.
European courts are also pushing EU nations to act on climate change and pollution.
On Tuesday, for example, a Dutch appeals court upheld a 2015 landmark ruling that forced the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020. Similar cases are being litigated in several other European countries and in the United States, New Zealand and India, according to Urgenda, an environmental group that sued the Dutch government on behalf of about 900 Dutch citizens. Urgenda says its case against the Dutch government was the first in the world to hold a government accountable for the dangers of climate change.
Then on Wednesday, Deutsche Welle, a German news agency, reported that a Berlin court ordered a ban on diesel vehicles in the German capital's city center by 2020. A similar ban exists in Hamburg and Frankfurt is set to introduce a partial ban next year, the news agency reported.
Emissions from cars account for about 12 percent of the EU's releases of carbon dioxide.
Overall, greenhouse gas emissions in the EU were cut by 22 percent between 1990 and 2016, according to Eurostat, the EU's statistical office.
Cain Burdeau is a Courthouse News reporter based in the European Union.
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