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Volkswagen Commits to Strict Carbon Emissions Limits

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment

There is a certain car company that will probably always hold a special place in my heart: the Volkswagen Group. I grew up hearing that my parents brought me home from the hospital in a 1966 Volkswagen Bug after I was born.

There is another reason why I'm digging that German automaker these days. On March 4, right before the Geneva Motor Show, Volkswagen announced its decision to meet the proposed EU emissions target of an average of 95 grams of carbon per kilometer (gCO2/km) by 2020. That decision makes it the first car company to commit to meeting EU's proposed emissions target.

There is more to like about VW if you care about the environment. Chairman of the Executive Board of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, Dr. Martin Winterkorn, said that VW would reach its target of reducing the carbon emissions of its new European vehicles to less than 120 gCO2/km by 2015. In 2011, the average emissions from new cars was required to be no more  than 135.7 gCO2/km, with a mandatory target of 130 gCO2/km in 2015. Meeting its 2015 target would put Volkswagen ahead of EU's mandatory requirements.

Volkswagen and Greenpeace work together after years of criticism

Winterkorn, according to Volkswagen's statements about its new emissions target, met with Greenpeace Chief Executive Director Brigitte Behrens in Hanover, Germany on March 21. The meeting focused on Volkswagen's efforts to protect the climate. Volkswagen and Greenpeace have been in talks for two years about meeting the EU target set by legislation.

In 2011, Greenpeace launched Star Wars-themed ads targeting Volkswagen which aimed to "turn Volkswagen from the Dark Side." The environmental group accused the car company of lobbying against environmental laws. The ads were a spoof of Volkswagen's Star Wars-themed ads. That year, Greenpeace's Andrew Davies said, "Volkswagen has been running an ad campaign showing a cute kid in a Darth Vader costume turning on one of their cars. It's been a big hit but for a company that's essentially threatening the future of all of our children, we thought it was ripe for a remake."

Flash forward two years, and Greenpeace is now praising Volkswagen. Greenpeace Chief Executive Director Brigitte Behrens said of Volkswagen's new emissions target, "This is a decision in favor of climate protection and a key signal for committing to the protection of the environment and society and the series production of climate-friendly technical solutions."

Both Greenpeace and Volkswagen make it clear that the dialogue will continue. Behrens said, "We will remain in dialogue with Volkswagen, also as regards mobility concepts for the future." Volkswagen said in a statement that it will "continue constructive dialogue about further environmental targets to be adopted by the Group and how they are to be achieved."

The benefits of the proposed EU emissions limit

EU's proposed emissions targets will be good for the economy, as a recent report by Cambridge Econometrics and Ricardo-AEA finds. Although the proposed emissions limit will add $1,286 to $1,415 to the cost of the average car in 2020, it will be offset by fuel savings. The average car owner will save $514 more a year on fuel than the owner of the average 2010 vehicle model.

Using less fuel will benefit the EU economy as a whole. As the report states, "There is a direct benefit to GDP from reduced imports of fossil fuels, which improves the trade balance." Lowering fuel costs increases household incomes, and gives businesses "a boost to competitiveness against foreign firms." Increased spending on the technology to lower emissions creates more jobs in manufacturing.

Image credit: Volkswagen

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman