Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Environmentalists vs. the Industrialists

These are interesting times. We've known for sometime that the EU was considering the future of the voluntary agreement with the automotive industry in order to reduce carbon emissions. Last week we had a flurry of emails from our networks across Europe about all of the intense lobbying going on behind the scenes. Verheugen and Merkel were throwing their weight around to protect the European car industry, while Dimas pushed for binding emissions targets, especially after the recent UN report on climate change. Meanwhile the President of the EU, Jose Manuel Barroso, has been siding with Dimas and calling for tougher CO2 cuts, whilst hypocritically driving around in a huge gas guzzling VW Touareg 4x4.
The outcome is a communique on Wednesday recommending a binding average emissions target of 130gm CO2 / km by 2012.
It's interesting to see the different views taken by the press. The German paper Spiegel reports that it is up to the consumers to change things around. According to the car industry, they have been doing their bit, to the extent that they have a large over-capacity of small and efficient cars which they can't sell, because the demand is for larger and more powerful cars. I heard a spokesperson for the auto industry on Radio 4 calling for higher taxation by the member states to drive the demand away from gas guzzlers.

The Telegraph took a different stance. They reported that the EU had failed it's first big test on tackling Climate Change, and instead bent to accommodate economic interests. According to Jos Dings, of the European Federation for Transport and Environment, "the Commission has proposed to weaken an 11-year-old climate target for new cars just five days after the global scientific community warned policymakers to take serious and urgent action on climate change."
In what may be the best advice, José Manuel Barroso said "the new rules could help rather than hinder Europe’s ailing car industry."
“The E.U. car industries are at the core of our economies,” he said. “By positively taking up the climate change challenge, they will preserve and enhance their competitiveness in the long term.”
So, rather than fighting, if our auto executives embraced change, maybe they would actually help their businesses to compete and help save the planet at the same time.