Europe falling short on curbing car emissions, auditors warn
The European Court of Auditors believes the EU’s ambitious 2035 goal for a zero-emission car fleet faces significant barriers without bolder action to curb tailpipe pollution.
In an audit report published recently, the EU watchdog said policies and regulations have not yet translated into meaningful reductions in real-world CO2 emissions from conventional vehicles over the last decade.
Stringent targets and penalties for manufacturers are advancing electric models. However, combustion engine cars still dominate sales. With limited raw materials and uneven charging access hampering faster EV uptake, pollution cuts remain elusive, the report said.
“A true drop in emissions will not occur until the internal combustion engine’s dominance ends,” said Pietro Russo, lead auditor of the report. “But fully electrifying the EU car fleet brings immense challenges.”
“With our findings and recommendations, we aim to provide input for the Commission and stakeholders to make the implementation of the regulation more efficient and effective in reducing new passenger car CO₂ emissions and help the EU meet its 2030 and 2050 climate targets.”
Until recently, automakers exploited laboratory test loopholes to achieve lower certified CO2 ratings out of sync with actual on-road driving. In 2017, a new laboratory test cycle that better reflected actual driving conditions became compulsory for new type-approved vehicles. This effectively closed many loopholes that had been created under the previous test cycle, and narrowed the gap between laboratory and real-world emissions. Since 2022, the Commission has been collecting information on real-world emissions from on-board fuel consumption meters installed in new vehicles. Tighter testing now better reflects reality but has not curbed pollution from traditional cars, the report said.
The report suggests only EVs have moved the needle on average fleet emissions amid their rising, albeit still minor market share. To stay on track for climate neutrality and avoid fines, car companies have heavily marketed plug-in hybrids, which auditors warn allow excess emissions until 2025.
With most consumers still facing financial and practical barriers to purchasing electric cars, significant government efforts around infrastructure and affordability will be vital to accelerate turnover of the EU’s fossil-fueled fleet, auditors advise.