EU must withdraw carmakers’ ‘license to pollute’ as data shows new cars meet limits

(Transport and Environment, 8 May 2019) The EU is proceeding with cartel investigations of whether German carmakers delayed the introduction of new emissions technology. Yet the European Commission looks set to propose keeping relaxed NOx limits for on-road tests of Euro 6-standard cars in response to a recent EU Court ruling.

EU legislators should not accept that limits will continue to be exceeded in real-world use, as T&E’s analysis of industry data shows the technology for less polluting diesels is available. The upcoming review is a golden opportunity to improve air quality and align tests with the newest evidence.

The ruling last December was spectacular: the EU’s lower court decided that the European Commission had no right to adopt laxer pollution limits for on-road tests of Euro 6 cars. The Commission’s 2016 ‘conformity factor’ decision may sound like a technical detail, but in reality it has meant that carmakers can exceed the legal diesel limit for poisonous NOx of 80mg per km.

The Commission argued in 2016 that such flexibilities were needed to take account of statistical and technical uncertainties when switching from emission measurements in laboratory to ‘Portable Emissions Measurement Systems’ (PEMS) for on-road ‘Real Driving Emissions’ (RDE) tests. But what should have been a very limited flexibility reflecting genuine measurement uncertainties was turned into a ‘license to pollute’ after pressure from EU governments.

Commission reluctant to go beyond current rules

Although the Commission's own Joint Research Center (JRC) suggested the uncertainty of PEMS devices to be as low as a factor of 1.2 back in 2016, governments bowed to lobbying by carmakers and decided to apply a political ‘conformity factor’ of up to 2.1 until the end of 2020 (168 mg/km instead of 80 mg/km), effectively raising the Euro 6 limits. By January 2021, this value is supposed to be reduced to 114 mg/km (a technical ‘conformity factor’ of 1.43). The ruling by the European court presents a golden opportunity to rectify this erroneous decision and deliver a quick win for air quality in Europe.

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Transport and Environment, 8 May 2019: EU must withdraw carmakers’ ‘license to pollute’ as data shows new cars meet limits