Features
19 Feb 24

EU transport emissions “have not fallen” since 2011

CO2 emissions from transport in the EU have not fallen since 2011, says the European Court of Auditors (ECA). This despite reduction targets for new cars set in 2010. Engines have become cleaner, but this has been compensated by cars getting bigger and engines more powerful. 

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The EU has had considerable success in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in several areas, but CO2 from road transport has continued to grow, the ECA states. In 2021, it made up 23% of the EU’s total GHG emissions. Passenger cars are responsible for more than half. 

Marginal decrease

Specifically, emissions by diesel cars have remained constant between 2011 and 2022, while they have marginally decreased for petrol cars (-4.6%) the ECA has found. While EU norms have made engines more efficient over the last decade, those gains have been largely nullified by the SUV trend, which has increased vehicle mass by about 10%, and by the parallel trend towards more powerful engines (on average about 25% more powerful).

In the 2010s, OEMs exploited loopholes in test requirements to obtain reduced emissions in a laboratory setting, creating an “enormous” gap with real-world emissions.  Following Dieselgate in 2015, a new test cycle reduced but did not eliminate the gap between test results and real-world emissions, the ECA says. 

Combined with the trend towards bigger cars and more powerful engines, this means “real emissions from conventional cars, which still account for nearly three-quarters of new vehicle registrations, have not dropped”, according to the ECA.

Major undertaking

This stubborn resistance to improvement puts Europe’s green agenda in danger. “A true and tangible reduction in cars’ CO2 emissions will not occur as long as the combustion engine prevails,” said Pietro Russo, ECA member, in a statement. However: “Electrifying the EU’s car fleet is a major undertaking.”

By which the auditors mean full-electric BEVs, not hybrid PHEVs, which tend to have much higher emissions in practice than those suggested by lab tests. The ECA points out that in 2025, there will be an adjustment in EU rules to correct this. “Until then, PHEVs will continue to be treated as low-emission vehicles, to the benefit of car manufacturers.”

If BEVs can make a difference, then their numbers need to increase even faster than they already have. In 2022, almost one in seven new cars was a BEV, up from just 1 in 100 back in 2018. 

Want to achieve real sustainability? That's the key topic of the Global Fleet Summit 2024, from 13 to 15 May in Cascais, Portugal. Click here for more info and to register.

Image: Leo Van Vreckem, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Authored by: Frank Jacobs