Although emissions have been partially reduced, car makers agreed to bring down average emissions from new and imported cars to 140 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2008.

 

They reaching 162 grams in 2005.

 

Binding limit

 

The EU executive is threatening a binding lower emissions limit for 2012, with an overall target of 120 grams, but it also promises to boost the use of biofuels and cleaner fossil fuels.

 

"The bulk of the effort will have to come from vehicle motor technology through an average fleet target for new cars"

Johannes Laitenberger, EU spokesman
Johannes Laitenberger, an EU spokesman, said: "The bulk of the effort will have to come from vehicle motor technology through an average fleet target for new cars."

 

Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, said the target for the car industry will only be confirmed after EU officials carefully examine the impact of the new rules.

 

Reacting to claims by German carmakers that mandatory limits would cripple them and force them to shed European jobs and lose business to foreign rivals, he said this "doom scenario" was a myth.

 

Dimas said: "We have thoroughly considered the concerns of the European industry that they have about job losses. Nothing of this will happen."

 

"If there are clear rules, there are no free riders. Whoever wants to access the European market will have to offer products that are in conformity with those rules."

 

The EU says that the industry can only gain if it embraces cutting-edge cleaner technology.

 

Inefficient biofuels

 

Biofuels made from energy crops such as wood or sugar are not necessarily low-carbon or energy-efficient to produce, especially if Europe's growing demand for ethanol causes Amazon jungle to be cleared for new crop plantations.

 

Fourteen per cent of global greenhouse gases
stem from transportation [EPA]

Cars can, however, use less fuel - and have already become more fuel-efficient over the last decade, with car makers cutting average emissions by nearly 13 per cent.

 

But the cars that people buy have been getting heavier as safety regulations add air bags and people with longer commutes demand more comfort. More weight means more fuel.

 

Jos Dings of the environmental lobby European Federation for Transport and Environment said the car industry has played an active role in seducing consumers toward more powerful cars.

 

The European car manufacturers' association, ACEA, said it is merely responding to consumer demand. Sales figures show that small, urban, fuel-efficient cars are not selling.

 

Your Views
Ivan Hodac, ACEA's secretary general, said the one lever that could change customers' mind would be an EU-wide tax on carbon fuels, calling on EU governments to make a grand gesture and overcome their reluctance to setting a common European tax.

 

Taxes that favour more fuel-efficient diesel have helped these cars grab nearly a half of the European car market.

 

But Jos Delbecke, head of the commission's climate change unit, says: "Fiscal incentives alone are not going to do the trick if the advertising campaigns of the car industry are only for powerful cars, the bigger the better."