Those who, despite all the evidence, live in hope that pressure on governments will produce action on climate change are in a difficult bind today. The European Commission’s decision to water down plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars demonstrates once again that corporate interests will always win out in Brussels (and every other capital, for that matter). Intense pressure from car manufacturers ensured that the EC backed down on its plans to enforce a 25% cut in carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 2012, and instead set a target of a 12% reduction. By 2012 new cars sold in Europe must on average emit no more than 130 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g/km CO2). This target is, in fact, considerably weaker than a target the EU set in the mid-1990s calling for new cars to emit on average 120g/km by 2012. As Jos Dings, of the European Federation for Transport and Environment, explained: "The Commission has proposed to weaken an 11-year-old climate target for new cars just five days after the global scientific community warned policymakers to take serious and urgent action on climate change." The EFTE said that transport is the only sector which has increased its C02 emissions in Europe in the last 15 years. For example, in 2005, the UK had the fourth highest average emissions of the EU15 countries. To meet the 2008 target in the UK, average emissions from new cars must fall by more in the next two years than they have in the last nine years. It is simply not going to happen.
The commission’s proposals were due to be made two weeks ago, but were postponed at the last minute in order to heal a split on the issue within the 27-member European Union. While some Eurocrats favoured tougher measures, political leaders decided otherwise. German car manufacturers wrote to the commission warning of factory closures and job losses and other corporations like Ford and Toyota piled on the pressure. Then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, vowed to fight moves to impose a compulsory cap on vehicle CO2 emissions. The result is the half-baked set of proposals which will have no effect on climate change. In the end, putting the words "green" and "cars" in the same sentence is a nonsense, whatever fuel efficiencies are achieved. Manufacturers live or die by year-on-year increases in sales because, naturally enough, raising total profit is what motivates production. As things stand, whatever comes out of the EC, we will still end up with more cars clogging the highways, polluting towns and villages. This is simply not acceptable, nor sustainable. A real plan to tackle the ecological crisis requires a shift away from car dependency towards cheaper (or even free) public transport, moving jobs closer to where people live and a comprehensive reorganisation of economic life in favour of not-for-profit production. Some will say that this is an impossible task, given the dominance of the global corporations and the political elites they effectively sponsor. Better to go on lobbying governments and encouraging individual actions in the hope that rational argument will win the day. The EC decision on emissions shows, however, that this approach is rooted in fantasy. We might as well face the fact that the capitalist system will not and cannot solve the ecological crisis which it itself is responsible for creating. The new publication Running a Temperature, published by A World to Win, outlines practical alternatives and solutions that take us beyond the failures and restrictions of the market economy. Get yourself a copy and start building the momentum for the radical, revolutionary change that the situation demands.
Paul Feldman, communications editor