EU must cut diesel emissions, officials say
The European Union must cut emissions from diesel vehicles as part of its efforts to reduce air pollution, which is causing close to half a million premature deaths a year, EU officials said.
More than half the cars sold in Europe have a diesel powertrain, but that dominance is at risk because of looming regulations that will tightly limit emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, a key ingredient of smog.
The European Commission says it will publish legislative proposals to improve air quality in the second half of this year. As well as a law on air quality, it has already put forward tougher vehicle emissions standards and is introducing stricter vehicle testing standards.
The aim is to ensure emissions levels recorded during tests accurately reflect pollution levels during daily use and not just in a controlled environment.
The European Federation for Transport and Environment says that an analysis of fuel consumption data shows drivers only got half of the promised reduction in fuel costs from new cars purchased from 2006 to 2010. The Brussels-based environmental lobbyist group said it plans to publish more information regarding the differences between fuel economy data released by the automakers and real-world results.
"We will have to address the issue of the diesel car," Janez Potocnik, EU environment commissioner, told a Brussels conference on Tuesday. "Compliance is crucially dependent on reducing real world emissions from diesel cars."
The EU has a particularly high number of diesel vehicles, because tax advantages have in many cases made it cheaper than gasoline. The cancer risk linked to diesel vehicles, however, was underlined last year by a World Health Organization study.
Said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of EU body the European Environment Agency: "All subsidies for diesel should be phased out."
The Commission has estimated that NOx, together with other pollutants such as minute specks referred to as particulate matter, which are generated by smoke as well as traffic, cause roughly 420,000 early deaths in the EU per year. Apart from posing a cancer risk, air pollution leads to lung and cardiovascular disease.
Diesel passenger cars produce more than 21 times as many PM10 (larger size particulate matter) emissions in grams and more than twice the nitrogen oxides than gasoline per mile traveled, according to a written answer to the British House of Parliament in late 2011.
The European Environment Agency has said comparisons are complex, given that the newest diesel vehicles have very low emissions of particulate matter, but that the legacy fleet is still a major issue.
Entourage of effects
McGlade said air pollution was linked to a "whole entourage of effects" including reduced crop yield, implications for the development of unborn babies and lost working days.
The European Union's largest industrial facilities, although compliant with existing EU law, cost between 102 billion ($133.6 billion) and 169 billion euros -- or 200 to 300 euros per citizen -- in 2009 in terms of costs to health and the environment, McGlade said.
Attempting to pre-empt any criticism of the cost of tighter regulation, Potocnik cited heightened air quality concerns in the United States and China and predicted "enormous demand for (sustainable) products and processes."
"Let's not kill our industry with kindness," he said. "Air quality is not only an environmental objective but also an economic opportunity."
Potocnik said the majority of the 27 EU member states are infringing EU air quality rules.
Reuters contributed to this reportContact Automotive News