German transport commission feels the pressure

"We also recruited more people from Tesla. They are excellent at building extremely efficient battery systems." [EPA/TORE MEEK NORWAY OUT] [EPA/TORE MEEK NORWAY OUT]

Germany’s mobility commission presented its progress report last week but critics see the proposals as lacking ambition. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Last week, the Working Group for climate change presented its progress report to Germany’s National Platform Future of Mobility. But there have been public criticisms.

There are rumours that there is a lack of even minimum consensus and measures that are too weak to reach the needed cuts of between 40% to 42% of CO2 by 2030 in the transport sector.

It should be noted that the compromise reached is already an achievement given that the commission had been under political pressure since the beginning, according to Daniel Rieger, who was present during the meetings of the Working Group.

“We were able to agree on two-thirds of the measures, which is remarkable in itself,” said Rieger, who leads the transport policy section at NABU.

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Even so, various environmental associations have criticised the progress report and characterised it as being “in no way satisfactory”.

The proposals would reportedly never reach the required CO2 emissions levels. Between 16 and 26 million tons of emissions would still be unaccounted for, according to calculations made by Klimareporter.

The proposed investments worth €160-250 million are essentially “measures to feel better”, Rieger insisted.

The German Christian Democrats (CDU) are of a different opinion. Daniela Ludwig, speaker on transport policies in the Bundestag, told EURACTIV that the report “is a good base for the political discussions that are currently on the agenda”.

Political influence 

The talks stoked public expectations from the very beginning. This translated into clear outside pressure being exerted on the Working Group, according to Rieger.

During meetings, it was clear that governmental departments dealing with transport and economic issues attempted to assert their influence.

“There were a few failed attempts by ministry officials, who made it clear that a simple analysis of the status quo would be sufficient for our report.”

As a result, the progress report contains very few concrete measures, but focuses on ambitious targets instead: the cost of train travel should be reduced by reducing the associated cost of VAT. Bike paths should also be built.

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However, compromise could not be found on binding quotas for electric cars or a speed limit.

Already in January, the commission’s leaked proposal had been met with political opposition from many sides.

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer made it clear that he would not support a speed limit. Speaker for transport issues Ludwig also suggested that one should not “nanny people with prohibitions and avoid taxation measures”.

Even the politically contested CO2 tax is not explicitly being promoted. This is because there is no agreement regarding the socially acceptable price of carbon dioxide.

Representatives of environmental organisations are in favour of a gradual increase of the fuel tax and demand the reduction of climate-harming subsidies.

In contrast, the industry wants to include transport emissions in the EU Emissions Trading System.

E-car conflict of interest

“In the end, we could not agree on the issue of drive technology. The industry is gambling on synthetic and biofuels, but we are convinced that this is the wrong approach,” said transport expert Rieger.

So far, less than 4% of German cars are powered by alternative types of fuel as they are not yet considered to be completely ready for the market.

To cover the need of biomass fuels, investments are being made into large cultivation areas of plants in monocultures, such as in Africa. However, the so-called e-fuels that are obtained using renewable power, lose close to three-quarters of their energy during the conversion process.

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Environmentalists are therefore calling for the expansion of e-mobility, which car manufacturers have also started to embrace.

But in the Working Group, this was opposed by the German Association of Automotive Industry (VDA), according to Rieger, as the association also defended the interests of combustion engine suppliers.

In an opinion, the VDA justified its scepticism regarding the rapid promotion of e-cars by suggesting that new technologies always need market acceptance.

Also, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) has shown caution regarding e-cars: “To attain the necessary electrification of cars, there would be a need to strongly increase the share of electric drives from close to 30 to 75% between 2025 and 2030.”

RIP engines

Even with its plans to expand e-mobility, Germany looks to have left it too late to be one of Europe’s leaders in the transition.

Denmark is currently planning to ban cars with combustion engines by 2030. The UK and France have also announced their wish to reach that goal by 2040.

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The debate on e-cars is taking place alongside the decision adopted on Wednesday by the European Parliament regarding an increase on the limit for CO2 emissions by cars.

By 2030, car fleets should emit 37.5% less CO2 on average compared to 2021. Prior to voting, Germany had spoken of a reduction of 30%.

The transport commission’s proposals are not binding. They will only serve as a basis to present measures for the planned climate protection law. By the end of 2019, a comprehensive plan should be ready to present to the sector.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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