EU approves 2035 ban on new fossil fuel car sales
The European Parliament on Tuesday gave its final approval to a ban on new sales of carbon-emitting petrol and diesel cars by 2035, with a view to getting them off the continent’s roads by mid-century.
European Union member states have already approved the legislation and will now formally nod it into law at an upcoming ministerial meeting, despite opposition from conservative MEPs, the parliament’s biggest group.
Supporters of the bill had argued to that it would give European carmakers a clear timeframe in which to switch production to zero-emission electric vehicles, and spur investment to counter competition from China and the United States.
This, in turn, will also support the European Union’s ambitious plan to become a “climate neutral” economy by 2050, with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“Let me remind you that between last year and the end of this year China will bring 80 models of electric cars to the international market,” EU vice president Frans Timmermans warned MEPs.
“These are good cars. These are cars that will be more and more affordable, and we need to compete with that. We don’t want to give up this essential industry to outsiders.”
But opponents argued that neither European industry nor many private motorists are ready for such a dramatic cut off in production of internal combustion engine vehicles — and that hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk.
“Our proposal is … to let the market decide what technology is best to reach our goals,” said MEP Jens Gieseke, a member of the centre-right European People’s Party.
Gieseke declared that arguments from Green and socialist MEPs that electric cars are cheaper to run had been rendered “null and void” by the crisis of soaring energy costs.
“In Germany 600,000 people work on ICE production, those jobs are at risk,” he declared, urging the European Commission to rethink plans to also extend the ban to trucks and buses.
The EPP group warned of what it said would be the “Havana effect” — Europeans continuing to drive vintage fuel-burning cars after new sales are banned because they can’t find or afford an electric.
Opponents also argue car batteries are produced abroad by Europe’s competitors like the United States, but Timmermans argued that thanks to EU-backed investment European production would increase.
Green MEPs stressed the importance of the ban in reducing emissions and pollution.
– Victory for the planet? –
Karima Delli, president of the transport committee, declared: “Today’s vote is a historic vote for the ecological transition.
“We will no longer, or almost no longer, have petrol or diesel cars on our roads in 2050 … it is a victory for our planet and our populations”
Cars currently account for about 15 percent of all CO2 emissions in the EU, while transportation overall accounts for around a quarter.
In October last year, EU member states, the European Commission and parliament’s negotiators agreed on a proposal to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars in Europe to zero by 2035.
In practice, in the final legislation, this means a halt to sales of new petrol and diesel cars, light commercial vehicles and hybrids in the bloc by that date, in favour of all-electric vehicles.
– US green subsidies –
Car-making giant Germany and conservative MEPs have been dubious about the new rules, fearing the burden of re-tooling their plants and retraining workers while global rivals have looser targets.
But the European car industry itself did not lobby hard against the law, with many firms already jockeying for position in the race to become electric vehicle giants.
Since the law began its journey through the EU legislative process, however, the United States has unveiled a huge plan to subsidise the green transition of its own industry with government hand-outs.
This has led to fears in Europe that its US rival will siphon away investment and jobs in electric vehicle and battery production.
Currently around 12 percent of new cars sold in the European Union are electric, with consumers shifting away from CO2-emitting models as energy costs and greener traffic regulations bite.
Meanwhile, China — the world’s biggest automobile market — wants at least half of all new cars to be electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen-powered by 2035.
The law passed the Strasbourg assembly by 340 votes to 279, with 21 abstentions.
Threat of US ban surges after TikTok lambasted in Congress
A US ban of Chinese-owned TikTok, the country’s most popular social media for young people, seems increasingly inevitable a day after the brutal grilling of its CEO by Washington lawmakers from across the political divide.
But the Biden administration will have to move carefully in denying 150 million young Americans their favorite platform over its links to China, especially after a previous effort by then president Donald Trump was struck down by a US court.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew endured a barrage of questions — and was often harshly cut off — by US lawmakers who made their belief quite clear that the app best known for sharing jokes and dance routines was a threat to US national security as well as being a danger to mental health.
In a tweet, TikTok executive Vanessa Pappas deplored a hearing “rooted in xenophobia”.
With both Republicans and Democrats against him at Congress, Chew must now confront a White House ultimatum that TikTok either sever ties with ByteDance, its China-based owners, or get banned in America.
A ban will depend on passage of legislation called the RESTRICT ACT, a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate this month that gives the US Commerce Department powers to ban foreign technology that threatens national security.
When asked about Chew’s tumultuous hearing, spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre repeated the White House’s support of the legislation, which is just one of several proposals by Congress to ban or squeeze TikTok.
– ‘Prove a negative’ –
The sell-or-get banned order tears up 2.5 years of negotiations between the White House and Tiktok to find a way for the company to keep running under its current ownership while satisfying national security concerns.
Those talks resulted in a proposal by TikTok called Project Texas in which the personal data of US users stays in the United States and would be inaccessible to Chinese law or oversight.
But the White House turned sour on the idea after officials from the FBI and the Justice Department said that the vulnerabilities to China would remain.
“It’s hard for TikTok to prove a negative ‘No, we’re not turning over any data to the Chinese government.’ Look at how skeptical our European partners are about US companies where we have a strong legal system,” said Michael Daniel, executive director of the Cyber Threat Alliance, a non-governmental organization dedicated to cybersecurity.
Presently, the White House’s preferred solution is that TikTok sever ties with ByteDance either through a sale or a spin-off.
“My understanding is that what has been… insisted on is the divestment of Tiktok by the parent company,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
But that option is riddled with difficulties, with many experts saying that Tiktok cannot function without ByteDance, which develops the app’s industry-leading technology.
“ByteDance’s ownership of TikTok and the golden jewel algorithm at the center of this security debate is a hot button issue that will not necessarily be solved just by a spin-off or sale of the assets,” said Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities.
Proving the point, China has ruled out giving the go-ahead for a TikTok sale, citing its own laws to protect sensitive technology from foreign buyers.
That leaves a ban which would see the full might of the US government crush TikTok to the undeniable benefit of domestic rivals Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.
They currently trail TikTok, which is the most popular social media in the United States.
– Snapchat wins –
TikTok’s demise “will clearly benefit Meta and Snapchat front and center in the eyes of Wall Street,” said Ives, who believes the saga will play out for the rest of the year.
One unknown is whether a death sentence for TikTok will cost Washington politically among young voters.
Through a ban, “a democracy will be taking steps that impede the ability of young Americans to express themselves and earn a livelihood,” said Sarah Kreps, professor of government at Cornell University.
The lawmakers putting the Tiktok CEO over the coals minimized the danger of political blowback.
“I want to say this to all the teenagers… who think we’re just old and out of touch,” said representative Dan Crenshaw, a Republican.
“You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but there will be one day when you do care about it,” he said.
US state to require parental consent for social media
Utah on Thursday became the first US state to require social media sites to get parental consent for accounts used by under-18s, placing the burden on platforms like Instagram and TikTok to verify the age of their users.
The law, which takes effect March 2024, was brought in response to fears over growing youth addiction to social media, and to security risks such as online bullying, exploitation, and collection of children’s personal data.
But it has prompted warnings from tech firms and civil liberties groups that it could curtail access to online resources for marginalized teens, and have far-reaching implications for free speech.
“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” tweeted Spencer Cox, governor of the western US state, who signed two related bills at a ceremony Thursday.
The bills also require social media firms to grant parents full access to their children’s accounts, and to create a default “curfew” blocking overnight access to children’s accounts.
They set out fines for social media companies if they target users under 18 with “addictive algorithms,” and make it easier for parents to sue social media companies for financial, physical or emotional harm.
“We hope that this is just the first step in many bills that we’ll see across the nation, and hopefully taken on by the federal government,” said state representative Jordan Teuscher, who co-sponsored the bill.
Michael McKell, a Republican member of Utah’s Senate who also sponsored the bill, said it was a “bipartisan” effort, and praised President Joe Biden’s recent State of the Union address, in which he raised the issue.
Biden last month called on US lawmakers to restrict how social media companies advertise to children and collect their data, as he accused Big Tech of conducting a “for profit” experiment on the nation’s youth.
California has already introduced online safety laws including strict default privacy settings for minors, but the Utah law goes further.
Lawmakers in states such as Ohio and Connecticut are working on similar bills.
Platforms including Instagram and TikTok have introduced more controls for parents, such as messaging limits and time caps.
At Thursday’s ceremony in Utah, McKell pointed to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which he said highlighted the toll social media apps can have on young minds.
“The impact on our daughters — and I have two daughters — it was incredibly troubling,” he said.
“Thirty percent of our daughters from ninth grade to 12th grade had seriously contemplated suicide. That’s startling.”
Google opens chatbot Bard for testing in US and UK
Google on Tuesday invited people in the United States and Britain to test its AI chatbot, known as Bard, as it scrambles to catch up with Microsoft-backed ChatGPT.
Bard, ChatGPT and other similar apps churn out essays, poems or computing code on command, though they come with warnings that the information they create can be incorrect or inappropriate.
People wishing to play with Bard can sign up on a waiting list at bard.google.com website, distinctly separate from the tech giant’s search engine.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a tweet that the move is an “early experiment” allowing people to collaborate with generative artificial intelligence (AI).
“We’ve learned a lot so far by testing Bard, and the next critical step in improving it is to get feedback from more people,” Google vice presidents Sissie Hsiao and Eli Collins said in a blog post.
“We continue to see that the more people use them, the better LLMs (large language models) get at predicting what responses might be helpful.”
As exciting as chatbots are, they have their faults, Hsiao and Collins cautioned.
They can incorporate real-world biases, stereotypes or inaccuracies in responses, according to the vice presidents.
Google has adopted a more cautious rollout of generative AI in contrast to Microsoft that has chosen to swiftly make the products available to consumers despite reports of problems.
ChatGPT’s OpenAI is backed by Microsoft, which earlier this year said it would finance the research company to the tune of billions of dollars.
OpenAI recently released a long-awaited update of its AI technology that it said would be safer and more accurate than its predecessor.
Much of the new model’s firepower is now available to the general public via ChatGPT Plus, OpenAI’s paid subscription plan and on an AI-powered version of Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
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