VW diesel scandal and climate change: can increased independent car checks lead to cleaner mobility?

One Planet Summit, Paris
Date: 12/12/2017. © European Union , 2017 Source: EC – Audiovisual Service Photo: Mauro Bottaro

It was last Thursday when the European Parliament together with the Council and the Commission agreed to enhance the car testing system by providing extra checks to the cars that are or will be placed in the market based on the proposal of the European Commission made on January 2016. Despite the fact that this agreement came after a long time and lengthy negotiations, it finally opens the way for cleaner mobility through a more independent surveillance system.

VW chief executive Matthias Müller mentioned this month that the German government has to stop financing people for buying diesel cars. It seems that Mr Muller wants to change the image of the car manufacturer which was found to cheat back in 2015, violating the Clean Air Act. However, it could be hard for people to believe that VW can be more climate-friendly promoting relevant policies.

VW ex-executive’s punishment

One day before the agreement, the U.S. court sentenced a former VW executive to seven years in prison and a 400.000 dollars fine despite the attempts of his attorney to convince the court to deliver a milder punishment. Oliver Schmidt who was in charge of the firm’s environmental premises in Michigan accepted the accusations of having helped the company evade clean-air laws.

More checks, less pollution

The political agreement of European Commission’s proposal on harshening the rules for safer and cleaner vehicles reinforces EU’s support on the industry. Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs stated that the system needs tougher rules in order to cover gaps and prevent similar to the VW diesel scandals. More specifically, Elżbieta Bieńkowska said: “Dieselgate has revealed the weaknesses of our regulatory and market surveillance system. We know that some car manufacturers were cheating and many others were exploiting loopholes. To put an end to this, we are overhauling the whole system. After almost two years of negotiations, I welcome that the key elements of our proposal have been upheld, including real EU oversight and enforcement powers. In the future, the Commission will be able to carry out checks on cars, trigger EU-wide recalls, and impose fines of up to €30,000 per car when the law is broken.”

Apart for the agreement, which promotes a greener approach to the car industry ensuring that safety, environmental and production requirements are respected, the Commission announced yesterday at the One Planet Summit in Paris that it will fund 9 billion euros for action on climate change. Thus, it seems that the EU not only targets on low and zero emissions vehicles but also attempts to achieve each and every goal of the Paris agreement.

Can the EU legislation stop VW scandals?

The political agreement signals a new era in the car industry and EU market surveillance system. Before the final result, the EU countries supported that one in every 200.000 new vehicles had to be tested on their emissions while MEPs asked for 20% of all cars to be checked. But the outcome is that one in every 40.000 new vehicles will face extra controls on emissions.

Monique Goyens, BEUC Director-General, mentioned that: “We are content that the EU has set minimum targets for checking cars when they are in use, especially considering national inaction in this area. More European oversight of national authorities should also help to eliminate conflicts of interest that might exist in the EU’s Member States. But the EU can still do more for consumers. A void is the lack of a test for real-world CO2 emissions. This is much-needed as the gap between laboratory and real-world simulations of CO2 emissions stands at over 40%. Such a situation cannot be allowed to continue, which is why we urge policy-makers to resolve it immediately.”

Furthermore, the Economy minster of Estonia Kadri Simon underlined on the issue: “a balanced deal which delivers the necessary reforms. This new framework will help restore the credibility of the car sector. It will set up a transparent system with proper supervision, improve coordination at different levels and harmonise the application of EU rules”.

Is VW changing position?

The VW chief executive mentioned in December that German government needs to think of cutting down funding related to purchasing of diesel cars in order to promote a more climate-friendly attitude and reduce emissions. More specifically, Matthias Müller said: “I’m convinced that we need to question the sense and purpose of these diesel subsidies.  If the transition to environmentally friendly electric cars is to succeed, the diesel internal combustion engine cannot be subsidized like before. The money could be more meaningfully invested in the promotion of environmentally friendly drive technologies.”

However, the German Transport Ministry has no intention to change its taxation policy on diesel fuel as government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

The above statement of Matthias Müller came a few days after VW approved a 40 billion euros investment in electric vehicles, autonomous driving and electric mobility technology. The chief executive plans to transform Volkswagen into the top player in electric mobility by 2025. How come the giant car manufacturer changed position so suddenly? Aren’t diesel cars the future? According to France, UK and the Netherlands it may be the case as everyone is planning to forbid the sale of diesel cars between 2030 and 2040.

Need for climate protection

It seems that everybody, except for the U.S. government which has recently stated to drop out of the Paris agreement, is in favor of legislating policies and adopting measures that could reduce gas emissions and lead to a cleaner environment.

All in all, agreements such as the one made last week on tightening rules for safer and cleaner cars together with more sustainaible climate finance are actions which could effectively tackle climate change.

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