The role of standards in reducing CO2 emissions of passenger cars in the EU

The origin of the EU vehicle CO2 regulation is by now a well-known story. European car manufacturers promised to voluntarily reduce average CO2 emissions of new cars to 140 g/km by 2008, starting in 1995, when average CO2 emissions were 186 g/km. By 2005 it was clear that the manufacturers would not meet that voluntary commitment and in a mandatory regulation was adopted that set a CO2 target of 130 g/km by 2015. In 2013, EU policy makers then set a new CO2 target, 95 g/km by 2021.

But that story is only part of the full story, because the vehicle CO2 standard was only part of the European Commission’s plan. In 1995, the Commission envisioned a strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from cars supported by three pillars: CO2 performance standards for new cars, improved consumer information, and reforms to the system of vehicle taxes. The logic of that approach remains compelling, and the experience of the past years adds empirical support. Now, a dramatically changing technological context, especially with respect to developments in electrified vehicles and information technologies (as those affect mobility options) highlights a number of possible components of a multifaceted strategy for the 2020–2030 time period.

Vehicle CO2 performance standards for cars, vans, and trucks—effectively enforced—are at the core of any serious effort to realize lower-carbon transport. To be in line with the EU’s climate goals for 2030, the level of ambition of the proposed 2025/30 CO2 standards must increase and must be complemented by a similar CO2 regulation for heavy-duty trucks, as well as by measures to limit the gap between official and real-world CO2 emission levels.

In addition to these EU-wide measures, the EU member states will have to leverage the effects of the new-vehicle CO2 performance standards by implementing supporting policy measures at the national level, such as emissions-based vehicle taxes, mandates for electric vehicles, and emissions-based road pricing.