The European Commission launched on Wednesday (9 December) its vision for how to clean up transport’s emissions act, as part of a four year action plan designed to help the bloc hit its 2050 climate-neutrality target.
According to the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, transport emissions need to fall by 90% by 2050 for the EU to stand a chance of hitting the mid-century goal. But latest figures show that emissions are actually growing.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said that “today’s strategy will shift the way people and goods move across Europe and make it easy to combine different modes of transport in a single journey. We’ve set ambitious targets for the entire transport system.”
For the road transport sector, where the lion’s share of emissions are produced, those targets include at least 30 million zero-emission cars on the road by 2030 and efficiency-boosting automated vehicle tech deployed en masse.
Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said that “digital technologies have the potential to revolutionise the way we move, making our mobility smarter, more efficient, and also greener.”
By 2050, the EU executive is aiming for nearly every vehicle – new trucks included – on the road to be zero-emission.
Fleet renewal should help bridge the twenty year gap and boost the chances of meeting the benchmarks, while the Commission intends to revise the CO2 regulations for light- and heavy-duty transport in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Clean mobility group Transport & Environment called the plan “a major step towards the complete electrification of cars, vans and trucks” but criticised the Commission for failing to set “a date when 100% of cars sold will be electric”.
New emission standards, known as Euro 7, will be proposed soon and the Commission reconfirmed its target of installing 3 million electric-car charging ports around Europe by the end of the decade.
According to the strategy, “measures such as carbon-pricing (in the form of possible inclusion in the EU Emission Trading System), taxation, road charging” will all have to play a role in the decarbonisation quest.
The Commission is still looking into whether road transport should be rolled into the ETS, although Timmermans is a notable critic of the idea, and the European Council is still mulling its negotiating position on the Eurovignette road charging directive.
At an informal meeting of transport ministers on Tuesday (8 December), Germany’s Andreas Scheuer said it has “been a high priority for the German presidency, and I am confident that we will be able to agree on a Council position by the end of our term.”
The draft agreement will allow member states to offer big road charge discounts to zero-emission trucks, which should help clean up supply chains.
However, the strategy is not ambitious enough for some. At a EURACTIV event held just after the plan was announced, T&E’s Carlos Calvo Ambel warned that the plan does not lay out in concrete terms how to achieve its goals.
“How are we going to make sure that by 2050 we only have zero-emissions vehicles on European roads? What policy tools are we planning to use? That’s something that we are missing from the newly adopted strategy,” he warned.
Ambel also pointed out that the Commission failed to delve into the idea of an internal combustion engine phase-out or ban, a policy that is rapidly being adopted by the UK. Legal analysts doubt whether a direct ban would be in keeping with single market rules.
Julie Kjestrup, head of EU affairs at Danfoss, welcomed the “holistic approach” of the strategy, adding “we cannot just pick one mode of transport at a time, we need to go all in on all levels.”
Planes, trains &…
The Commission indeed wants to see big improvements in other sectors. In line with what Airbus has announced and what the French government has outlined, the strategy calls for large zero-emission aircraft to be in service by 2035.
That is only one milestone, as trends predict that renewable and low carbon fuels – produced from waste streams or clean energy – could top 8% of jet-fuel demand by 2030 and up to 68% by 2050. A previous draft of the strategy had included a 5% low-carbon fuel target.
Electric-battery aircraft play little part in the Commission’s plans, despite significant technological advancements in recent years, which allowed the EU’s aviation safety agency to issue its first certification of an e-plane earlier this year.
A new scheme aimed at boosting the use of sustainable fuels will land early next year and “a proposal to reduce ETS allowances allocated for free to airlines” will also be announced.
Better air traffic management could cut EU aviation emissions by 10% but a planned review of the rules has stalled for nearly two decades. A fresh attempt to seal a deal looked in jeopardy yesterday when transport ministers expressed new fears about the update.
“Some member states considered that the proposals did not fully respect member states’ sovereignty and responsibility over their airspace,” the Council said in a statement.
Airlines for Europe, the aviation industry’s main trade body, said that “the strategy is aligned with and reinforces the sector’s existing commitments towards a sustainable post-crisis future for aviation – and sets the stage for concrete decarbonisation proposals.”
What to do with planes that are already part of airline fleets remains an open question. Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury recently called for a “clash for clunkers” scheme for older aircraft, which would see carriers given incentives to trade in their inefficient flyers for newer, greener models.
Another major objective of the transport strategy is that journeys under 500km should be carbon neutral, in a direct nod to rail travel as the mass transit option of choice over those distances.
“For rail, all scenarios show electrification as the main option,” the document reads, adding that up to 95% of passenger services and nearly 90% of freight trains should be electrified by 2050.
The amount of cargo sent by rail should double by the same date, while high-speed rail should double by 2030 and triple by 2050. The Commission insists this can be achieved by completing infrastructure projects and streamlining cross-border ticketing services.
The ultimate objective is for rail to be able to compete on a level playing-field with road transport within ten years and the EU sees next year’s ‘European Year of Rail’ as an ideal opportunity to get things started.
Maritime transport should also be able to compete, according to the transport plan. The Commission wants to see zero-emission ocean-going vessels in service by 2030 and will publish a new scheme aimed at lining inland waterways to the rail network.
International shipping is already destined to be folded into the ETS for the first time next year but the strategy also mentions ‘Emissions Control Areas’ and new rules on ship recycling as important steps towards launching green vessels.
Catherine Chabaud, a French MEP with the Renew Europe group and a former sailor, told the EURACTIV event that innovative designs and better efficiency must be the hallmark of Europe’s clean-up of shipping. She added that zero-emission ports will also be crucial.
Alongside more conventional forms of transport, prototype hyperloop technology also got a mention in the strategy. The concept involves pressurised tubes that allow sealed pods to travel at hypersonic speeds.
“The European Commission is paving the way for the future of sustainable mobility,” said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop, a company aiming to pioneer the idea.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]