The European Union has taken a hard line against carbon dioxide emissions over the past few years, and according to one new study, the work is beginning to pay off. A Jato Dynamics report says that over the past six years, total CO2 emissions have dropped by as much as 12 percent in Europe. That’s a significant downturn in greenhouse gases, especially when you consider that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, from 2005 to 2008 the United States saw CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption in transportation grow by 6 percent. (U.S. data are not readily available for 2003-2009.)
The Jato Dynamics study points to three main reasons for Europe’s success, two of which dovetail with similar programs here in the U.S. First, Europe has been the site of successful jumps in clean engine technology, thanks in part to strict legislation. American manufacturers have similarly begun exploring fuel-saving, emission-cutting tech, including the use of direct injection and turbocharging. Likewise, Europe has introduced a number of scrapping programs that have sent older, less efficient vehicles to the junkyard in favor of new models. The programs are similar to last year’s successful Cash for Clunkers program in the U.S.
But there is one big difference: Europe’s legislators aren’t afraid to use taxation as a means to change the behavior of both consumers and manufacturers. Buyers face large taxes on vehicles that consume more than their fair share of fuel, and thus produce larger amounts of emissions. Similarly, fuels are heavily taxed in most of the European Union, resulting in higher fuel costs overall. The result is that buyers are more likely to purchase efficient vehicles with smaller carbon footprints.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a similar taxation program in our country. Raising taxes here means certain political suicide, so any move to make fuel more expensive seems unlikely. Still, the government does seem to be doing what it can with the incentives for clean diesel and hybrid vehicles. Time will tell whether those programs are as effective as Europe’s efforts.