Stakeholders call for ‘reality check’ on EU road transport and energy policy

Europe’s ambitious plans for road transport decarbonisation need a “reality check” in order to result in a pragmatic decrease of emissions and oil products, energy stakeholders told EURACTIV.com.

The EU has been trying since the first Renewable Energy Directive in 2009 to come up with a solution for decarbonising the transport sector while the new Green Deal is expected to revisit some pieces of legislation, including transport, which represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of air pollution in cities.

According to a European Commission staff working document accompanying the European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility, “oil products would still represent 86-87% of the EU transport sector needs [by 2030] – compared to 94% today – despite the significant reductions achieved in absolute levels”.

A better picture though is expected by 2050, when oil products should represent about 49-51%, but the uptake of alternative fuels and energy carriers takes time, in particular, due to the gradual replacement of vehicle fleets.

Europe’s oil dependency to stick to transport up to 2030

Despite the European Commission’s proclaimed aim of decarbonising transport, and various pieces of legislation it has pushed forward, Europe’s transport sector will remain heavily dependent on oil until 2030.

A reality check

Zoltán Szabó, a sustainability consultant for trade group Ethanol Europe, said it is clear that the EU has not delivered on transport decarbonisation and a reality check is therefore needed as the underlying issue is oil consumption.

“Without reducing oil consumption in road transport there is no chance for transport to do its fair share in the fight against climate change. EU climate and transport governance will need to look at effectively reducing oil consumption. The grim outlook is that oil is projected to remain king. The focus should be on the amount of oil used and making sure it decreases each year,” he told EURACTIV.

According to Szabó, Europe needs to do something about the existing vehicle fleet.

“Given the fact that the average scrapping time of cars is about 17 years in Europe, cars on the road today, not to speak of the upcoming ones, will stay with us well beyond 2030. The EU will need to make sure that the energy they will be using is increasingly replaced by alternative fuels, such as ethanol,” Szabó said.

Eurelectric, the EU power sector association, said that contrary to the power sector, transport emissions have continued to increase despite all efforts.

“To address this, the Commission should forge a coherent, Paris-aligned strategy backed by effective measures as part of the Green Deal,” Secretary-General Kristian Ruby told EURACTIV in an emailed response.

Asked about the push to reduce oil consumption in road transport by 1% annually, Ruby said there are more effective ways: “If we put electrification at the heart of Europe’s economic recovery strategy, we have a unique opportunity to deliver on decarbonisation and counter the economic crisis spurred by Corona,” Ruby said.

Eurelectric said that during the last economic crisis, governments initiated subsidised car scrapping programmes to sustain demand for new cars.

“At times, these schemes accounted for the majority of new car sales. If such schemes are tied to purchasing of electric cars, we can accelerate the shift to a decarbonised car fleet and stimulate a crucial industry”, Ruby emphasised, adding that another critical point to accelerate transport decarbonisation is scaling up charging infrastructure.

EU Green Deal to tune up car CO2 rules 

The European Commission will revise car CO2 standards and move towards zero-emission vehicles in the 2030s, according to the EU’s new Green Deal, unveiled on Wednesday (11 December). Every other mode of transport can expect attention over the next five years too.

All alternative fuels needed for energy transition

In January, a number of energy stakeholders issued a joint statement calling on the EU executive to take all alternative fuels already available in the market into consideration in the energy transition.

They said relying solely on new technologies is not enough as there are alternative-fuel solutions that already reduce oil dependency and harmful emissions.

Liquid Gas Europe told EURACTIV that 15 million vehicles are currently running on Autogas, which has immediate environmental benefits compared to conventional fuels.

“We believe that Europe should openly support all solutions that are already available, cost-effective, commercially viable and that positively contribute to the energy transition.”

Liquid Gas Europe emphasised that the average age of the European car fleet keeps increasing every year, which shows that a decarbonisation based solely on pushing the sales of relatively expensive new low-emission cars is not adequate.

“We believe this is a critical reality-check that the EU needs to address, which should result in introducing supportive measures to also decrease emissions from vehicles already on the road.”

“Supporting blend-in solutions with demonstrated emission benefits appears as an effective and realistic way for the EU to curb emissions across the board, increase the availability of renewable fuels, and decrease dependence on oil,” Liquid Gas Europe added.

It insisted that there is no “silver bullet” in transport’s decarbonisation. “Policymakers, and not technology winners, should set performance standards.”

1% oil reduction is not enough

For Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP, a reality check regarding transport emissions is definitely needed as Europe needs much stricter and additional decarbonisation measures.

“An oil reduction target for road transport will in itself not be sufficient to tackle road emissions. Simply because it can be easily met by switching to alternatives which do not bring it much further, like gas and biofuels,” he told EURACTIV.

He emphasised that a “1% yearly reduction is also too low, be it for oil or greenhouse gases”.

“For road transport my main focus is on measures that ensure rapid switching to zero emission technology, most importantly the phase out of the internal combustion engine,” the Dutch MEP added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Sam Morgan]

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