Transport needs to do a lot more to fight climate change

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Ethanol can cut petrol GHG emissions in half. [Shutterstock]

Transport is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world, accounting for more than one fifth of all emissions. But progress in reducing these emissions is among the slowest of all sectors, warns Eric Sievers.

Eric Sievers is investment director of Ethanol Europe, which is part of the Climate Ethanol Alliance.

Road transport is over 90% reliant on fossil oil and transport CO2 emissions are still growing.  They grew by 2.5% annually between 2010 and 2015 globally and are on track to become the largest GHG emitting sector, especially in developed countries.

Major negotiators from the EU and beyond are in Bonn to discuss how to implement the Paris Agreement. If we want to effectively combat climate change and reach well below 2 degree Celsius target from the Paris Agreement, we need to do a lot more.

Presently we are not on the right track. Transport decarbonisation measures laid out in the nationally determined contributions (NDC’s) to the Paris Agreement are not sufficiently ambitious to reach that target, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In order to do so, the IEA says the sector’s emissions must remain stable from 2015 to 2025 and decrease rapidly afterwards. For OECD countries they need to decline by 2.1% annually between 2015 and 2025.

If Europe wants to reduce carbon emissions in transport it will need to rely on the use of ethanol as well. It is a proven clean technology, getting better all the time, available at the scale needed to tackle transport’s climate challenge.

Ethanol cuts GHG emissions from petrol by more than half and is promoted by most major industrial nations in the world.  The US has for more than a decade had policies in place to increase the share of ethanol use. Brazil has the highest share of ethanol use globally, recently raising it to 27% of transport fuels.

China has just announced that E10 (a blend of 10% ethanol in petrol) will be introduced by 2020. India is aiming at E10 by 2022. Canada and other Asian and American countries are also following suit with similar measures considered.

The climate benefit of ethanol used as a transport fuel is recognised globally. The UNFCCC agrees that ethanol and other sustainable biofuels have an important role to play in decarbonisation for decades ahead.

The European Union however has been to date contradictory in its policy-making in respect to this fuel despite ethanol being used in Europe in an ever growing share and the EU public support for biofuels.

Beyond climate benefits, the EU should look at how ethanol production brings benefits to society in terms of rural development, job creation in disadvantaged rural communities, increased energy independence and reduced health impact including by lowering fine particles known as PMs.

As COP23 continues, it’s important to look at the reality and future trends. The internal combustion engine vehicle fleet is still growing and electrification will take time to make an impact on the car market. Vehicles on the road today, and the vast majority for decades ahead, are forecast to continue using oil.

Transport’s main fuel will still be fossil-fuel based even in 2040. Modal shift, energy taxation, internalisation of the billions of dollars of negative externalities of oil, are insufficient to reach the Paris Agreement goals.

If Europe wants achieve its goal of decarbonising EU transport it simply needs a mix of renewable energy solutions — including low-emission fuels such as sustainably produced and renewable European ethanol.

It has 64% greenhouse gas savings on average, compared with petrol It is also the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions in transport. EU can count on it today to achieve the non-ETS.

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