Photo credits: khunkorn

On 10 November, the European Commission presented a proposal to reduce air pollution from new motor vehicles sold in the EU to meet the European Green Deal's zero-pollution ambition. The new Euro 7 regulation is set to come into force from July 2025 for cars and vans, and July 2027 for trucks and buses.

Instead of taking the recommendation of its own expert group (Clove) into account to cut NOx emission limits from 60 to 30mg/km, and particulate matter limits from 4.5 to 2mg/km, the Commission has left existing Euro 6 petrol standards unchanged and only proposes bringing diesel emissions into line with those for petrol cars.

There are modest tightening measures included, such as making the lowest-possible exhaust emission values under Euro 6 for cars and vans mandatory under the Euro 7 norm, and applying limit values to particles shed from brakes and tyres. The standards are also thought to take real driving conditions in cities better into account, such as frequent stopping and starting. Furthermore, cars and vans will need to comply with the Euro 7 rules for twice as long as was the case under Euro 6, with the duration of compliance extended to 10 years and 200,000 kilometres driven.

Stricter limits were planned for trucks, but the Commission backed away from these at the last minute and applied weaker criteria on particulate matter emissions, as trucks are expected to rely on combustion engine technologies for longer.

The Commission claimed that the low ambition of its proposal reflects the challenges posed by the current high inflation environment, as it aims to keep vehicles affordable for consumers while promoting Europe's competitiveness (meaning not putting carmakers’ profits at risk). According to expert estimates, the stricter criteria would also have raised petrol vehicle prices by 0.8% and diesel vehicle prices by 2.2%.

This argument could be seen as hypocritical, given the fact that for more than a decade now the Commission has maintained the weight-adjusted CO2 emissions standards for cars and vans, which allows heavier cars to pollute more and emit more CO2. It is thus no wonder that over the years cars have become heavier, more powerful and in fact more expensive, with SUVs becoming mainstream. In Western Europe, the average price of a new car has increased from €35,500 in 2015 to €44,100 in 2022. Environmental NGO Transport and Environment claims that the stricter pollution limits would have cost an average of €304 per car.

The consumer organisation BEUC also criticised the fact that cars would have to comply with emissions limits until 200,000 km or 10 years (whichever comes first), which ‘means that a car’s emission control technologies will likely only work for this period’.

The overall message is devastating. Under the grip of the fossil energy price crisis, Europe is trying to perform a balancing act of maintaining its climate ambition while addressing the social emergency. However, it has capitulated to the demands of the car lobby without offering any practical benefits to consumers, exposing a generation to continued health risks for decades to come. 70,000 premature deaths were caused by road transport emissions in 2018, yet 100 million polluting cars will stay on Europe’s roads for decades.