Europe's incoming climate chief is determined to crack down on emissions from cars, but any new goals are at least a decade away.
Connie Hedegaard will struggle against political inertia, the complexities of electric vehicles and the power of big auto, making a rigid 2020 target her best possible outcome.
Hedegaard is widely expected to survive a vote next month on her nomination for the post of EU climate commissioner, clearing the way for her to fulfil a pledge to tackle pollution from transport.
Truck and van makers had been warned of imminent regulation, but most car firms were expecting a period of relative peace after a bruising battle in 2008 that pitted environmentalists against auto nations France, Germany and Italy.
Under the final deal in 2008, auto makers must cut the average carbon dioxide output of new cars by about 15% to 130 g/km by 2015 (EurActiv 02/12/08).
Denmark's Hedegaard surprised them last week by telling the European Parliament that the current rules appeared too soft and might need tightening.
Critics have been particularly damning that a second 2020 goal for cars has no legal clout.
"It can be important to try and review. Did we go far enough at the time?" she told the European Parliament hearing (EurActiv 18/01/10).
"Often we've seen industry will protest and say it's going to be extremely difficult [...] but then it turns out that when we do these things, we can often do it quicker than claimed before, and they can do it even more ambitiously," she added.
Environmentalists have been saying the same thing for months. They point to such automakers as Volkswagen, which they say has doubled the EU emissions-cutting target in two years with a 27% reduction by its Golf BlueMotion.
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