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Poor European test standards understate air pollution from cars

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Press Release Published 19 Oct 2004 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
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Inadequate test standards are underestimating emissions of harmful air pollutants from new cars and evidence indicates that many diesel car owners are making things worse by modifying their engines to increase power, the European Environment Agency warned today.


Copenhagen/Amsterdam, 19 October 2004

Poor European test standards understate air pollution from cars

Inadequate test standards are underestimating emissions of harmful air pollutants from new cars and evidence indicates that many diesel car owners are making things worse by modifying their engines to increase power, the European Environment Agency warned today.

These factors may be among the reasons why air pollution in Europe's cities is not falling faster, the Agency says in a new report, Ten key transport and environment issues for policy-makers.

In addition, because the test cycle for new vehicles does not cover air conditioning and some other types of energy-consuming equipment, Europe's progress towards cutting new cars' emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) appears greater than it really is.

"Ensuring that vehicles actually meet the emission standards in the real world should be a priority," Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said in a speech to a high-level Dutch government conference on sustainable mobility held in Amsterdam today. The two-day conference will make recommendations to the new European Commission taking office next month.

The EEA report and an accompanying briefing paper, launched at the conference, show that transport volumes are growing at roughly the same rate as the economy -- despite the European Union's goal of weakening this link - and continuing to intensify pressures on the environment.

These pressures include rising emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases as the market shares of road and air transport continue to grow at the expense of less energy-intensive modes, as well as threats to biological diversity from the fragmentation or disturbance of wildlife habitats by roads, railways and airports.

Efforts to counter these trends are at best only slowing the rate of increase.

Improvements in vehicle technology are succeeding in reducing air pollution from road transport despite the growth in traffic volumes. Emissions of regulated pollutants (excluding those from aviation and marine shipping) fell by 24-35% between 1990 and 2001 in the 31 EEA member countries.

But transport-related air pollution in urban areas still contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths each year across Europe.

Current test cycles for new vehicles do not reflect how cars are used under real driving conditions and so underestimate their actual emissions. This may help to explain why urban air quality is not improving as fast as vehicle data suggest it should, the report says.

The shortcomings of the test standards also mean that, while Europe's motor industry is on track to meet a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars by one quarter between 1995 and 2008, greenhouse gas emissions from air conditioning and other in-car equipment not covered could in reality cancel out around half of the improvement.

Even with the car industry's commitment, overall CO2 emissions from transport are projected to increase by 25% between 1990 and 2010, but without it the rise would be 35%.

Some 15% of the CO2 improvement achieved so far has been due to the increasing market share of diesel cars, which are more fuel-efficient than petrol vehicles.

But the practice of 'chip-tuning' diesel engines for greater power is a cause for concern because it increases fuel consumption and pollutant emissions. A recent report estimates that as many as half of new diesel cars may have been modified and that such changes can multiply their emissions, especially those of harmful particles, by up to three times.

On a brighter note, strong growth under way in the use of biofuels -- transport fuels made from crops and other organic material -- should help the transport sector to limit increases in its CO2 emissions. However, it is important that the biofuels are produced in ways that minimise other potentially negative impacts on the environment.

Further key messages from the report include the following:

  • Aviation is the fastest-growing transport mode and its impacts on the climate, from emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, will soon exceed those of passenger vehicles.
  • Rail and bus fares are rising faster than the cost of private car use, giving cars an advantage over public transport. Progress is slow in restructuring transport charges to reflect different modes' costs in terms of damage to infrastructure and the environment.
  • Transport infrastructure, especially road and high-speed rail networks, is continuing to expand and thus further fragmenting the landscape. Optimising the use of existing infrastructure through road pricing or congestion charging would allow this growth to be limited.

The report is available at and the briefing paper at

Notes to editors

The Dutch government is hosting the 'Energy in Motion' conference on 19-20 October in its capacity as current presidency of the European Union. The conference will produce conclusions that will include recommendations for the work programme of the new European Commission taking office on 1 November. The conference website is

About the EEA

The European Environment Agency is the leading public body in Europe dedicated to providing sound, independent information on the environment to policy-makers and the public. Operational in Copenhagen since 1994, the EEA is the hub of the European environment information and observation network (Eionet), a network of around 300 bodies across Europe through which it collects and disseminates environment-related data and information. An EU body, the Agency is open to all nations that share its objectives. It currently has 31 member countries: the 25 EU Member States, three EU candidate countries -- Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey - and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. A membership agreement has been initialled with Switzerland. The West Balkan states -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro - have applied for membership of the Agency.


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