EU to go easy on deadly car pollution

The EU’s draft new exhaust emissions rules won’t do much to clean up smoggy city air.

When it comes to cleaning up car pollution, the European Commission wants to go nowhere, fast.

The EU executive is working on an ambitious plan to ban the sale of new CO2-emitting combustion engine cars by 2035. But it's opting to take a pass on reining in other killer emissions from conventional cars like ammonia and nitrogen oxide, according to documents seen by POLITICO.

The Commission is expected to unveil the latest revision of its non-CO2 exhaust emissions rules, dubbed Euro 7, on November 9.

A new technical annex, obtained by POLITICO, shows the new standards won't be more stringent than the current Euro 6 norms for gasoline cars. That means carmakers won't need to invest in innovations that could reduce light vehicle exhaust pollution this decade.

Industry officials say they've been briefed that carmakers will need to be compliant with the new standards from July 2025. Companies had previously demanded four years to introduce them, and even if the new rules don't change much they will only be finalized shortly before they go into effect, so the tight turnaround is still likely to draw some complaints from the industry.

"Why bother at all?" asked one industry executive of the Commission's current proposal. "If the effect is negligible, they should let automakers focus on the important investments."

Carmakers argue the necessary investment in new engine and exhaust technology would be steep and a distraction from converting their production lines to electric vehicles.

The Euro 7 rules will be widened out from exhaust pollutants to also include particle pollution from brakes, which would also apply to EVs, but those new standards won't apply until 2035, according to the document.

Clean air campaigners want the Commission to set far more stringent rules for carmakers as part of the revision, pointing to endemic levels of toxic pollution in cities across Europe, much of which is related to traffic emissions.

The European Environment Agency says that in 2019, some 307,000 premature deaths were related to chronic exposure to particulate matter while a further 40,400 were linked to chronic nitrogen dioxide exposure. Both are caused by road transport.

The Commission's own advisory panel, Clove, concluded that stiffer non-CO2 emissions standards could be introduced, but the Commission has decided to go easy on the industry amid soaring inflation and a supply chain crunch.

"The proposals for cars are so weak, the auto industry might have drafted them themselves," Anna Krajinska, an exhaust engineer at environmental NGO Transport & Environment, said after reviewing the annex.

The EU executive has been working on the Euro 7 legislation since late 2018, and has already delayed the publication several times as it closed out the separate zero CO2 emissions mandate aimed at putting the bloc on track to meet its climate objectives.