MEPs call for more stringent emissions tests for cars

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee is insisting that emissions tests for cars should be more stringent to ensure that EU limits on nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions are met.

The committee overwhelmingly voted in favour of an amendment to EU rules on measuring emissions from light passenger and commercial cars in a bid to address air pollution concerns.

According to a 2019 report by the European Environment Agency, air pollution led to more than half a million premature deaths across the EU in 2016, rendering it the leading environmental cause of premature death in the bloc. The same report estimated that around 230 people died prematurely as a result of air pollution in Malta that year.

Passenger cars produce around 40% of the EU’s NOx emissions, making them a significant source of air pollution, particularly in urban areas.

An end to conformity factors

Originally, pollutants such as NOx emissions from cars were measured in a laboratory. However, the EU was first to introduce real driving emissions (RDE) tests to measure the pollutants emitted by vehicles being driven on the road.

These tests involved the use of Portable Emission Measurements Systems (PEMS), which measure emissions from engines while they are being used. To address any uncertainties regarding technical measurement, the European Commission introduced what is known as a conformity factor. This factor, currently set at 1.43, means that the vehicle may emit 1.43 times as much as in the test carried out under laboratory conditions in the second RDE phase.

The committee believes that this conformity factor should be lowered annually and cease to apply by 30 September, 2022, after which only raw data from RDE tests would be used to determine compliance with EU emission limits. It also asked that the Commission establish more stringent requirements for PEMS next June.

“Today’s outcome is based on a broad agreement between the political groups. We have to be realistic about the discrepancy between emissions measured in laboratories and those measured in real-driving conditions by taking into account statistical and technical uncertainties linked to these measurements,” rapporteur Esther de Lange said.

“At the same time, it’s important to show ambition by gradual lowering the value for the conformity factor through annual downward revisions, based on the scientific assessments of the Joint Research Centre.”