Diesel demonisation – the fact is, the EU is to blame

Today, the SMMT has launched a campaign to highlight the hard work that’s been done by the motor industry in reducing diesel vehicle emissions over the past decade or so.

Some of the ‘diesel facts’ include that the latest diesel cars have filters that capture 99% of all soot particulates and that UK emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from passenger cars have fallen 81% since 1990 – the biggest reduction of any sector. This happened despite diesel cars growing from 27.3% of new car registrations in 2003 to 50.8% of new car registrations by 2012.

The campaign is largely a reaction to the criticism by parts of the media and by the EU about air quality, particularly in urban areas of the UK. London, rather unsurprisingly, has the worst air quality in the UK and the EU has imposed fines on the city for its contravention of an EU directive that forced signatories to clean up their air.

The critics are, for the most part, blaming diesel vehicles for the failure to meet the targets set by this EU directive. Some blame manufacturers for making diesel cars. Some blame the industry as a whole for encouraging people to buy them. And some even blame consumers for doing so. However, I think if any organisation is to blame, it’s the EU itself.

Following a European Commission strategy adopted in 2007, the EU put in place legislation to reduce CO2 emissions from cars and other light vehicles in member states to help meet the targets set by the global Kyoto Protocol. This included the stipulation regarding fleet average CO2 emissions of 130g/km by 2015 and 95g/km by 2020.

One year later, the European Parliament and Council issued a directive on ambient air quality and achieving cleaner air across Europe, which set legally binding limits for major air pollutants.

The EU did the equivalent of telling everyone to get themselves on a high-protein diet, only to then say that we should all be vegetarian. The obvious route to achieve the reduction in CO2 emissions, and help the EU meet its greenhouse gas emissions limits as determined by the Kyoto Protocol, was the widespread adoption of diesel cars. However, while there has been much work done to reduce the pollutants from diesel cars, the simple fact is that when diesel is combusted versus petrol, it is going to produce more of the pollutants that the EU is trying to reduce.

The EU encouraged the ‘dash for diesel’ and is now trying to line its coffers by fining member states whose air quality does not met the agreed targets – largely due to this encouragement. It is flagrant hypocrisy. The British government should dismiss the £300 million fine immediately and sue the EU for double the amount to help fund emissions reductions measures.

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