Our friends at Greenpeace EU passed on a leaked memo last week to the Guardian, which reveals that our ministers care more about protecting Land Rover and Jaguar and jobs in Germany than they do about action on climate change.
According to the story, "The government is lobbying to weaken new European laws to force car manufacturers to build cleaner vehicles, leaked documents have revealed.
The UK has already been criticised for campaigning to water down another key European commission environmental policy to generate one-fifth of energy from renewable sources.
Now a briefing document from the Department for Transport to MEPs urges them to support three amendments to the commission's proposal to limit emissions from new cars to 120g of carbon dioxide for every kilometre travelled by 2012.
The UK-supported changes include plans to phase in the new limit over three years; to extend the less difficult targets for small manufacturers to include more companies - including potentially Jaguar, Land Rover and Ferrari; and to allow "eco-innovations" which are not part of the formal emissions tests to be allowed towards the target. These might include solar roofs and more widespread use of sixth gears.
The briefing, seen by the Guardian, indicates support for similar proposals by the French and German governments and would mean it was all but certain they will be adopted by the council of ministers because the three countries and their allies control such a big chunk of votes, said Franziska Achterberg, European transport campaigner for Greenpeace.
The impact of phasing in the target would be for average emissions to be 154g/km in the first year, reducing towards the 120g target by 2015, said Achterberg. Critics also claim it would not be feasible for the commission to test the claims for emissions reductions for eco-innovations made by manufacturers, although the UK government proposals stress they should be "robust and measurable". The car industry has already been criticised for missing a previous voluntary agreement promise to cut emissions to 140g/km by the end of this year. Yesterday the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said average new car emissions had fallen to 158.6g/km in the UK, just above the Europe-wide figure last year.
"The problem is transport emissions are still rising; if we don't do something on cars and fuel this is not going to stop, so all the efforts to reduce emissions in other sectors will be undermined," added Achterberg. Last night the DfT said the proposed changes would not have a significant impact on emissions but would help manufacturers with long cycles between research and development on more efficient technology and new models, especially small companies with less flexibility to offset more polluting cars against cleaner models.
The UK was also going further than the commission by supporting a new limit of 100g/km in 2020, said a spokeswoman.
The SMMT said the car industry, which employs 850,000 people in the UK, was struggling to cope with falling sales. "It is very appropriate that today we do address the sustainability of the automotive industry, and perhaps remind ourselves that economic and social impacts are as important as environmental considerations," said Paul Everitt, the society's chief executive."