France's environment ministry Wednesday unveiled a system of green taxes on gas-guzzling cars and bonuses for cleaner vehicles, as part of a nationwide strategy to slash global warming emissions.
From January 1, any driver who buys a new car emitting more than 160 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre (just over half a mile) will be charged a once-off penalty of up to 2,600 euros (3,800 dollars).
Penalties will start at 200 euros, rising to 750 for emissions above 166 grams, and 1,600 euros above 200 grams. The top tax bracket is set to concern one percent of all cars, those spewing out more than 250 grams of carbon dioxide, the ministry said.
Buyers of more environmentally-friendly cars will receive a bonus of up to 1,000 euros, based on the car's greenhouse gas emissions, with an extra cash award for scrapping a polluting old vehicle at the same time.
Bonuses will apply to all cars emitting less than 130 grams of CO2/km, starting at 200 euros, rising to 700 for emissions below 120 grams and to 1,000 euros for the cleanest vehicles, those producing less than 100 grams.
For the cleanest of all -- those emitting less than 60 grams of carbon dioxide, currently mainly electric cars -- the state will pay out a special super-bonus of 5,000 euros.
Penalties are expected to apply to around a quarter of all new car sales, while around 30 percent of buyers would qualify for a bonus based on current new car sales.
Designed to steer drivers towards cleaner transport, the scheme will pay for itself, the ministry said, with the levy on polluters used to pay out bonuses for the rest.
Emissions limits will be toughened every two years, by five grams each time, to encourage manufacturers to keep developing cleaner cars.
Plans for taxes on polluting vehicles were approved by President Nicolas Sarkozy following a four-month forum on the environment that brought together the government, industry and the green lobby.
Sarkozy came out in favour of a national "carbon tax" on global-warming pollutants and a European levy on imports from countries outside the Kyoto Protocol.
He also endorsed a raft of measures to slash greenhouse-gas emissions, cut pollution and foster biodiversity, ranging from a freeze on the building of new highways and airports, to a commitment to try to slash pesticide use by half.
But the France Nature Environment (FNE) federation of 3,000 green groups -- a key player at the summit -- said it was disappointed the government settled for a once-off penalty rather than an annual tax on polluting cars.
"This simple purchase tax amounts to buying a right to pollute," it charged in a joint statement with campaign group Act for the Environment.
"We recognise the importance of the initiative, but this is a step back from what was agreed on October 26," said Michel Dubromel, the FNE's transport expert.