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EU Green Deal: Commission proposes new air pollution measures

Last week, 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 targets.

According to the press release, road transport is the largest source of air pollution in cities. The new Euro 7 standards would ensure cleaner vehicles on our roads and improved air quality, protecting the health of our citizens and the environment. Euro 7 standards and CO2 emission standards for vehicles work hand-in-hand to deliver air quality for citizens, as notably the increased uptake of electric vehicles also creates certain air quality benefits. The two sets of rules give the automotive supply chain a clear direction for reducing pollutant emissions, including using digital technologies.

The new Euro 7 emission standards would ensure cars, vans, lorries and buses are much cleaner, in real driving conditions that better reflect the situation in cities with high levels of air pollution, and for a much longer period than under current rules. The proposal tackles emissions from tailpipes as well as from brakes and tyres. It also contributes to achieving the new stricter air quality standards proposed by the Commission earlier this year.

“We cannot accept a society where exposure to air pollution is responsible for more than 300,000 premature deaths in the EU-27 alone annually. The new rules would help us breathe safer air and help the sector to become greener and more resilient. We need to stick to the objective of the European Green Deal and become a standard setter globally”, said Margrethe Vestager, an Executive Vice-President at the European Commission.

As the press release notes: despite the EU’s 2035 combustion engine ban – in 2050, more than 20 per cent of cars and vans and more than half of the heavier vehicles in our streets are expected to continue to emit pollutants from the tailpipe. Battery electric vehicles also still cause pollution from brakes and micro-plastics from tyres.

How could the Commission’s proposal change transport in Europe?

Essentially, this proposal would replace and simplify the previously separate emission rules for cars and vans (Euro 6) and lorries and buses (Euro VI). The Euro 7 standards rules bring emission limits for all motor vehicles, i.e., cars, vans, buses and lorries under a single set of rules. The new rules are fuel- and technology-neutral, placing the same limits regardless of whether the vehicle uses petrol, diesel, electric drive-trains or alternative fuels.

The legislative proposal will now be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council in view of its adoption by the bloc’s co-legislators. If adopted, it could provide the following changes for the European transport sector:

  • Better control emissions of air pollutants from all new vehicles: by broadening the range of driving conditions covered by the on-road emissions tests.
  • Updated and tightened limits on pollutant emissions: limits could be tightened for lorries and buses while the lowest existing limits for cars and vans would now apply regardless of the fuel used by the vehicle.
  • Stronger regulations on emissions from brakes and tyres: the Euro 7 standards rules could be the first worldwide emission standards to move beyond regulating exhaust pipe emissions and set additional limits for particulate emissions from brakes and rules on micro-plastic emissions from tyres; applying to all vehicles, including electric cars.
  • Ensure new cars stay clean for longer: all vehicles would need to comply with the rules for a longer period than until now. Compliance for cars and vans would be checked until these vehicles reach 200,000 kilometres and 10 years of age, doubling the durability requirements under existing Euro 6 regulations. Similar increases would take place for buses and lorries.
  • Accelerated deployment of electric vehicles: the new rules would regulate the durability of batteries installed in cars and vans in order to increase consumer confidence in electric vehicles. This would also reduce the need for replacing batteries early in the life of a vehicle, thus reducing the need for new critical raw materials required to produce batteries.
  • Utilising digital tools: Euro 7 rules would ensure vehicles are not tampered with and emissions can be controlled by the authorities in an easy way by using sensors inside the vehicle to measure emissions throughout the lifetime of a vehicle.

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