EU car emissions of CO2 almost the same as a decade ago

“Despite lofty ambitions and strict requirements, most passenger cars on EU roads still emit the same quantity of CO2 as 12 years ago,” the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said in a statement.

A top EU auditor reported on Wednesday that sales of electric cars in the European Union are not growing fast enough to meet reduced CO2 emission targets for new passenger vehicles.

The ECA, the European budget and policy watchdog, examined EU efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from passenger cars. The aim is a zero-emissions target for new passenger cars by 2035, with benchmarks along the way.

No drop in real-world emissions

Auditors found that combustion engine cars still accounted for nearly 75% of new vehicle registrations and that real emissions from conventional cars have not dropped.

In the last ten years, emissions remained steady for diesel cars and fell marginally for petrol cars by 4,6%. While engines grew more efficient, cars also grew bigger (and heavier), on average, by 10% between 2011 and 2022.

Engine power also grew by 25% in the same period, canceling out efficiency gains. Hybrid cars also reported CO2 emissions in real-world conditions much higher than laboratory figures.

Auditors found hybrid drivers were not using their electric engine as much as presumed, and on average, real-world plug-in hybrid emissions were three to five times higher than those measured in a laboratory. Adapted real-life emission tests will only appear from 2025 onward. In the meantime, car manufacturers have been saving billions of euros every year by not having to pay fines for exceeding emission limits. In 2020, the amount of dodged fines was almost € 13 billion.

Last but not least, the EU car park also evolved from 211 million vehicles in 2011 to 253 million units in 2021, an increase of 20%. In 2021, the CO2 emissions of the transport sector represented 23% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU; more than half were produced by individual cars.

Electric is the only way

Only electric vehicles drove any reduction in average CO2 emissions, auditors found. Electric vehicle registrations climbed from 1% of new car registrations in 2018 to almost 1 in 7 or over 14% in 2022.

“No real and tangible reduction of CO2 emissions by cars is possible as long as the internal combustion engine stays on board,” says Pietro Russo, the court auditor who wrote the report. “But the electrification of the EU car park is a titanic job.”

The report points to the three major obstacles to the quick expansion of EVs: access to the raw materials necessary to produce the batteries, the absence of charging infrastructure, and the price of an electric vehicle.

The report suggests that the control of the conformity declarations by manufacturers has to be tightened – supervising authorities in some of the EU countries have neglected their controlling role for years, says the ECA –, that the electronic tools to monitor cars (like OBD or onboard diagnostics) have to be better used, and that CO2 emissions limits in real driving conditions have to be installed, especially for all types of hybrids.


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