Car scrappage may upset climate negotiations

Lounging about my mother’s house in Shropshire on Easter Monday, I picked up her copy of The Independent to make an idle assessment of its chances of survival in these desperate times for newspapers.

On the back cover was a full page advertisement for iPhone. Undeterred, the front page masthead favoured a photogenic blogger from New York, with a trailer for her piece entitled “why I hate my iPhone.”

Gordon Brown will confirm that grovelling apologies await those whose left hand knows not what the right is doing. The debacle of his special adviser’s smear campaign against political opponents was headline news on the same day.

I sense that left and right hands may also be dysfunctional over the populist concept of car scrappage which offers subsidies for replacing old vehicles with new.

The debate has been narrowly drawn within the comfort zone of Europe, whose governments seek to rescue the car industry. No one appears to have questioned what developing country governments might think about the idea.

Let’s imagine these left and right hands entering the next round of preparatory negotiations on climate change in Bonn in early June. The Europeans are desperate that countries such as India will commit to targets for emissions reduction.

Bonn is the global headquarters of car scrappage. A couple of weeks ago Germany trebled the budget for its “successful” scheme to a whopping $6 billion. By June, the local media will be full of pictures of people falling over themselves in Mercedes showrooms.

Scrapping any engineering product is anathema to the Indian culture of backstreet workshops. Like many western visitors to Bangalore and Mysore, I’ve seen how battered bicycle parts become raw materials to the welders. Rubbing salt into the wound, the German subsidy of 2,500 euros is sufficient to purchase a new Tata Nano outright.

I fear that other key countries in the negotiations may be equally unimpressed. The Brazilians will observe that their priority for investment in the motor industry is to build vehicles which run on ethanol. The Nigerians may seize the opportunity to suggest that scrappage schemes, whether in Germany or Britain, are cynical vote-winners for upcoming elections.

I wonder whether we’ll see a repeat of the biofuel shambles. European governments swallowed the industry lobby whole before painfully digesting the bigger picture.

I have to declare an interest. As the owner of a 15 year-old rusting Ford, part of me craves a budget handout. But when I bought the car, I swore that I would not buy another until carbon efficiency doubled.

To its great discredit, the car industry is nowhere near that target. It’s not worth saving.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK