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The UK car industry is not doing enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars, Friends of the Earth said today in response to new pollution figures from the UK motor industry. The environmental campaign group said that the motor industry must be set mandatory targets for producing cleaner cars. The call is part of Friends of the Earth's The Big Ask climate campaign.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed today that the average carbon dioxide emissions for new cars sold in 2005 was 169.4g/km. This is a long way short of the target that the European motor industry's trade bodies reached with the EU in the mid 1990s to reduce average emissions from new cars. Under the voluntary agreement average emissions should fall to 140 g/km CO2 by 2008. The news will come as a further blow to Government hopes of reducing transport's contribution to climate change. Meeting this target would deliver a substantial part of the hoped for emissions cuts from surface transport .

Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner Tony Bosworth said:

"The UK motor industry is failing to take its environmental responsibilities seriously. It will almost certainly fall way short of the European car manufacturers voluntary target for cutting pollution from new cars. This is why mandatory targets for greener cars are needed."

"Road transport is one of the biggest contributors to UK carbon dioxide emissions. The UK Government must do more to encourage people to buy greener vehicles, and take steps to cut traffic on our roads as part of a determined effort to tackle climate change. It should also give its backing to a new law, as called for by The Big Ask climate campaign, which would require successive governments to make annual reductions in carbon dioxide."


The target

The motor industry's trade bodies reached an agreement with the EU in the mid 1990s to reduce average emissions from new cars sold in member states by improving fuel efficiency. The amount of carbon dioxide produced by a car falls as its fuel efficiency improves.

In 1997, new cars sold in the UK emitted an average of 189.8 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g/km CO2). Under the agreement average emissions from new cars sold would fall to 140 g/km CO2 by 2008.

Performance to date

Year Average CO2 g/km Improvement on previous year

1997 189.8 -
1998 188. 4 0.7%
1999 185.0 1.8%
2000 181.0 2.2%
2001 177.6 1.9%
2002 174.2 1.9%
2003 172.0 1.2%
2004 171.4 0.4%
2005 169.4 1.2%

How do we compare with other European countries?

According to the RL Polk data, the UK has the fourth highest average emissions from new cars in the 15 member states covered by the agreement. The highest average emissions are in Sweden (193.7 g/km CO2) and the lowest in Portugal (145.1 g/km CO2). UK emissions are slightly lower than those in Germany (170.8 g/km CO2) and substantially higher than those in France (151.9 g/km CO2).

Why are emissions in the UK not falling faster?

There are two reasons for the slow progress:

  • Lack of real incentives for choosing smaller, more fuel-efficient cars

    Despite the small changes made in last month's Budget, the incentives for drivers to buy smaller, more fuel-efficient cars remain insufficient. The Chancellor cut Vehicle Excise Duty (VED, or road tax) to zero for the most fuel-efficient cars, emitting less than 100 g/km CO2. However no car meeting these standards is on sale in the UK. VED on new cars emitting more than 225 g/km CO2 was raised to £210 for petrol cars and £215 for diesels. Friends of the Earth had called for a top rate of £600 with £100 gaps between the bands. The colour-coded fuel efficiency labels introduced last year provide useful information but need to be backed by real fiscal incentives.

  • Motor industry still building and advertising gas guzzlers

    The motor industry appears reluctant to move towards smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient cars, choosing instead to make cars heavier and more powerful. Analysis by Friends of the Earth of car adverts in national newspapers in the first two weeks of September 2005 (the start of the new `55' registration) showed that over half of all adverts were for cars in the two most polluting VED bands, but only three per cent were for cars in the two least-polluting VED bands.
What happens after 2008?

The current target is for 2008. The motor industry and the European Commission are currently discussing the shape and scale of a possible future target, and an initial announcement is expected later this year. Friends of the Earth believes that a new legally binding target should be set for new cars to emit an average of 120 g/km CO2 by 2012. This can be achieved with existing technology such as advanced lightweight materials, improved drivetrains, hybrid engines and regenerative braking. According to a report for the European Commission, this would cost around 577 Euros per vehicle, although the report also says this could be an over-estimate. However cleaner cars are also cheaper: drivers would save money as they would have to buy less fuel. The pre-tax fuel cost savings during the lifetime of a car could be almost 1000 Euros, and tax saving would increase this substantially .

Road transport and climate change

Road transport is responsible for around 20% of total UK emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas causing climate change. Emissions are rising because traffic is growing faster than fuel efficiency is improving. UK traffic levels have risen some 11 per cent since Labour came to power in 1997. Transport's contribution to total UK emissions is forecast to rise in coming years.

Recent research for the Department for Transport has shown that carbon dioxide emissions from road transport could be cut to 60% below 1990 levels by 2030. The research concluded that both technological improvements and behavioural change will be needed if 60% cuts are to be made. It found that improving the fuel efficiency of cars would make the single biggest contribution to cutting carbon dioxide emissions from road transport.

Reducing transport emissions will be an essential part of making the year-on-year cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that Friends of the Earth believes are needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The Big Ask, Friends of the Earth's climate campaign is calling on the Government to introduce a climate law that would set a legally binding target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 3% every year, monitored through an annual carbon budget. For more information see

[1] DEFRA (2006) `Climate Change: the UK programme 2006' shows that greener cars are projected to save around 2.3 MtC a year by 2010, out of total projected savings from transport of 6.8MtC, including new measures announced in the new programme.

[2] T&E (2005) `No regrets: the cost effectiveness of achieving 120 g/km average CO2 emissions from new cars in Europe by 2012'

[3] Bartlett School for Planning, and Halcrow Group for the Department for Transport (2006) `Looking over the horizon'

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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust