The European Union introduced its car CO2 standards way back in 2010 and has been revising and updating those standards every couple of years since, making them ever more stringent, in an effort to curb emissions entirely. The ultimate goal is to see the entire EU as carbon neutral by 2050, which means a strong push away from internal combustion automobiles. By threatening strict penalties for automotive companies which don’t meet these standards and incentivizing consumers for buying electric and plug-in hybrid cars, it’s working exactly as planned.
With tougher standards on gasoline and diesel automobiles introduced in late 2019, companies needed to sell more electric and hybrid cars to make up that difference. As a result of increased availability, increased incentivization, and increased acceptance, 2020 marked the single biggest year-over-year drop in average emissions since the EU introduced its standards a decade prior. In fact, the previous three years (2017, 2018, and 2019) saw average CO2 emissions increase, meaning the 12 percent drop registered in 2020 dramatically reversed a trend.
With 11.6 million new vehicles registered last year in the EU, Iceland, Norway, and the UK, a full 11 percent of them were BEV or PHEV, according to provisional data obtained by Reuters. The European Environment Agency did not confirm which automakers failed to meet the new stricter standards, but given that the financial burden of not meeting them would be painful, many automakers resort to purchasing emissions credits from other companies which produce far fewer or no internal combustion cars. This credit system is a large part of Tesla’s profitability in recent years, for example.
Average emissions for new vehicles registered in Europe across 2020 were 107.8 grams of CO2 per kilometer. That accounts for a significant decrease when compared to 2019's average of 122.3 grams per kilometer. According to the EPA, the average American car on the road today (not just new cars, but all cars) produces about 251.1 grams of CO2 per kilometer. So the average new European car buyer produces well less than half the CO2 of an average American driver. The EPA recently put into effect a new, more relaxed, emissions standard for 2021 to 2026 model years, requiring a corporate average fuel economy of 40.4 miles per gallon, which equates to 136.7 grams of CO2 per kilometer, or 14.4 grams worse than Europe achieved in 2019 after three years of growth. Yikes.
Maybe, in the throes of massive heat waves, incredible flooding, and generally unnatural weather patterns, we should demand increased action from Washington. Climate issues effect every aspect of our lives, so maybe we should attempt to be as proactive as Europe has been recently. It’s only going to get worse from here, folks.