Reducing automobile CO2 emissions: Can the EU draw lessons from Japan?

A few months ago we were contacted by some grad students from the Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU) at the Free University Berlin who were working on a comparison of vehicle CO2 regulation in the EU and Japan. They were looking to interview someone from the ICCT, as we have worked on those regulations in both regions, and we were happy to help them out.

They wrapped up their project in due course, and it would normally have disappeared without a trace, as these things do. But we think this is a noticeably good piece of research and analysis that happens to be very pertinent and timely, and so we asked their permission to post it on our site. They agreed, and you can download their paper here.

One particularly informative aspect of the paper is the comparison of the policy-making progress in both EU and Japan. While in the EU many different stakeholder groups tend to be involved in the development of vehicle market regulations, the number of stakeholders seems to be more limited in Japan, with many of the technical details being discussed in close collaboration between industry and policy-makers.

Also interesting from a cultural perspective is that name-and-shame sanctions seem to be very effective in Japan, where vehicle manufacturers will strive to comply with emission targets in order to “save face”. Name-and-shame tactics can also be effective in Europe, but that is more due to the fact that manufacturers do not want to be seen as climate laggards. Of course, in EU there are also monetary sanctions in place, although the report comes to the conclusion that the sanctions are scarcely higher than compliance costs and hence should be increased.

The report also points out that the Japanese fuel economy / CO2 limits are effectively reinforced by corresponding labeling and fiscal incentive policies. Such measures could be more optimally combined in the EU, where vehicle and fuel tax policies can vary greatly between EU Member States and are not always effectively linked to the CO2 emission level of a vehicle.

In general, the approach of combining an extensive literature review with expert interviews, and trying to draw lessons from the experience in Japan – a country that has already gained more than 10 years experience regulating vehicle CO2 emissions with its “Top Runner” efficiency standard – makes sense to us.

So while we may disagree with some of the details in the report, we think on the whole this is a very insightful and thought-provoking piece of work. The contact info of the students is on the paper, and doubtless they’d be glad to hear from other researchers studying these topics; we’re confident that we’ll be seeing more work from them as colleagues rather than students soon enough, in any case.