European parliament votes against tougher rules for petrol engine emissions

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The European parliament has voted against plans for big cuts in petrol engine emissions in a fresh setback for Brussels’ green agenda, but agreed to regulate the amount of microplastics that vehicle tyres and brakes can shed for the first time.

Under the EU’s new Euro 7 emission standards, MEPs agreed to set fuel emissions limits at the lowest level permissible under current regulations, arguing that further reductions would force carmakers to spend money developing new fossil fuel engines, which are being banned in 2035, instead of on development of electric vehicles. 

Alexandr Vondra, who steered the legislation through parliament, told the Financial Times that tighter rules would have a “devastating impact”, making car purchases unaffordable for many European consumers.

“The automotive industry has been clear that if the European Commission proposal goes through they would stop production of small cars immediately,” the Czech MEP said. “The industry needs to invest in electric vehicles, not the combustion engine which is becoming obsolete.”

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Diesel cars will have to cut their nitrogen oxide emissions down to the level of petrol-driven models, however, while trucks and buses will also need to make reductions.

The new curbs on microplastics, which are mostly found in brakes and tyres and shear off when vehicles are in transit, will apply to electric vehicles too. The commission said they would reduce such emissions by 27 per cent by 2030.

The Euro 7 rules would also apply to vans, buses and trucks and were backed by 329 votes to 230. Green groups condemned the vote, saying the new measures hardly improved on the previous regulation. 

Transport & Environment, a pressure group, said national and regional regulators relied on the Euro standards to decide which cars could access low-emission zones free of charge and pay lower rates of vehicle tax. 

Anna Krajinska, vehicle emissions and air quality manager, said: “The Euro 7 passed today is worse than useless. Car companies will use it to greenwash cars that are hardly any cleaner than today. The last pollution standard that [petrol and diesel] engines will have to meet is a dead letter.”

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Vehicle tyre particles are estimated to be one of the largest sources of microplastic emissions, contributing about 1mn tonnes of plastic pollution worldwide annually, according to Pew, the charity. 

Small particles end up as pollutants in soil and waterways when they break off from tyres when vehicles are braking.

MEPs also delayed the implementation of Euro 7, with the limits for cars applying three years after all associated regulation is adopted and five for trucks and buses, pushing that to 2030. The Commission had proposed 2025 and 2027 respectively for the new standards to come into force.

Acea, which represents carmakers, said the new emissions standard came with a “very heavy price tag”.

“Europe needs a proportionate Euro 7 that balances environmental concerns and industrial competitiveness,” said Sigrid de Vries, its director-general.

MEPs will now enter into negotiations with national governments, which also back weaker rules than those proposed by the commission, to agree the final legislation.

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