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Auto industry offers voluntary CO2 standards, but it won’t stop Australia being dumping ground for dirty cars

Published by
Giles Parkinson

The Australian car industry has finally admitted that it needs to clean up its act – but the voluntary scheme it has outlined on Friday is so weak that it will barely cause a change from business as usual. And business as usual in Australia means it is a dumping ground for dirty engines that car manufacturers can not sell in other markets.

The proposal outlined on Friday by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries aims for a non-compulsory emissions standard for passenger vehicles in 2030 that is actually weaker than the one being imposed, and legally enforced, in Europe in 2021.

And because it is voluntary, it won’t result in any penalties for companies that don’t comply. Any buying of “credits” suggested in the scheme will be more likely be for green-washing marketing purposes rather than actually cutting emissions and improving fuel consumption.

Australia has become something of a laughing stock around the world for its absence of any meaningful emissions and fuel standards – and its lack of any meaningful support for electric vehicles. Which is why it trails the developed world on both counts.

The lack of standards has also hit the hip pocket of Australian consumers. We each pay over $500 a year in additional fuel and maintenance, according to government estimates, because our cars are so dirty and inefficient

And yet consumers are told by government and vested interests that any move to introduce such standards would amount to a “carbon tax on wheels” and blow out the costs of new cars. Which the government’s own research also contradicts.

So it would seem to be a welcome move that the FCAI should outline on Friday a “voluntary CO2 emissions standard” that sets targets out to 2030, so the industry “can contribute to Australia’s commitment to the Paris agreement.”

It aims for a level of CO2 emissions for passenger and light SUVs of under 100 grams per kilometre, and under 145g/km for heavy SUVs and light commercials (mostly utes and vans).

The target will be voluntary, and each manufacturer will be able to plot their own path to the 2030 target, and it will allow the inclusion of Carry Forward Credits and/or Debits.

To put this into perspective, Europe is aiming for 95kg/km by 2021. That target is enforceable, and car companies face massive penalties if they don’t comply. Countries are being urged by climate experts to ban the sale of any petrol and diesel car from 2030, and many like the UK have committed to such bans.

“The intent behind this new Standard is to ensure automotive manufacturers can continue to do what they do best – and that is to bring the latest, safest, and most fuel-efficient vehicles to the Australian market,” FCAI boss Toney Weber said in a statement.

Other observers were less kind. “It’s a dog,” said one policy expert.

“These targets are even weaker than they look because hidden in the scheme are an enormous number of bonus credits. In Europe and the US only the most efficient plug-ins and electric vehicles receive bonus credits.

“Under the FCAI scheme, the majority of vehicles receive extra credits, which will mean that carmakers can appear to comply with the targets while, in reality, they are far above them.”

The Electric Vehicle Council, however, did welcome the move as a “step that paves the way forward” and at least means the industry recognises that CO2 standards benefit consumers.

But EVC chief executive Behyad Jafari warned that it was not enough to encourage the best and most efficient cars – be they fuel-efficient ICE cars or EVs – to be made available for Australian consumers.

“The government should follow the lead and introduce mandatory standards comparable to the US, the EU, and most other markets,” Jafari said.

“Until this happens we’ll just have to accept that a huge proportion of the world’s most appealing EVs will be unavailable to Australian consumers.

“Standards need to be designed in a way that encourages automakers to bring their EV models to Australia. Australians are early adopters, but they’re missing out on many of the benefits of EVs because our governments have failed to act.”

Others agreed that it was, at least, a small step. “Basically it’s a CO2 scheme in name only,” said one. “But it might make it easier to implement a proper scheme if the debate is about how a scheme works, not whether we have one.”

Attempts to introduce emissions and fuel standards by then environment minister Josh Frydenberg were abandoned after the Murdoch media launched a furious attack against the proposal.

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