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It seems reckless to say it louder than a whisper, but there are reasons for optimism: slowly but surely, COVID – within the EU at least – is receding.
That’s not to say that the virus isn’t still a very real, very prominent threat. It continues to upend lives across the continent. The rise of new, more infectious COVID variants intensifies the battle, assailing an already weary populace.
But despite this, thanks to the spluttering vaccine drive having found its footing, hospitalisation rates in many countries are falling. Mass inoculation is having an effect and for many Europeans, the tantalising prospect of cross-border travel is once again on the horizon.
This is good news for the tourism and transport sectors, which have seen historic downturns due to the strict health measures.
However, travelling during a pandemic – even with the virus on the backfoot – brings challenges.
Airport operators fear health checks could lead to significant delays, resulting in a summer of travel “chaos”.
“The level of both uncertainty and complexity in planning for the restart is just mind-blowing for now,” said ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec, whose association represents 500 airports on the continent.
“With each passing day, the prospect of travellers enduring widespread chaos at airports this summer is becoming more real.”
Read more about restarting travel below.
Greener plastics in cars
The European Commission will present the revamped End-of-Life Vehicles directive next year, which sets out how we deal with cars that can no longer be driven.
The recycling industry says the EU is missing a major opportunity: by increasing the amount of plastic stripped from old vehicles – such as handles and steering wheels – and then mandating their use in new vehicles, cars can become more circular.
They want mandatory targets for the use of recycled plastics in new cars. But the auto industry is sceptical.
Manufacturers worry about facing production issues if high-quality recycled plastic isn’t available at the scale they need. They also have concerns over price hikes caused by increased competition for recycled plastics.
NGOs aren’t convinced by the car companies’ reasoning. Read more below.
Cycling set to capitalise on pandemic growth
Last Thursday (3 June) was World Bicycle Day, a celebration of all things cycling related (well, at least by the UN and EU). International organisations took the opportunity to tout their recent adoption of the first-ever plan to promote cycling across Europe, titled (with bureaucratic flair) “The Pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion“.
The plan was jointly launched in May by Austria and France, and supported by the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, and the EU Commission.
It aims to extend cycling infrastructure, improve national cycling policies, and reduce cycling fatalities, among other goals.
Those behind the plan hope that the increase in cycling seen during the pandemic will continue.
“The growth of cycling in 2020 is historic. There is a unique opportunity to make the share of this means of transport snowball in the years to come, by supporting the use of cycling with appropriate measures for safety and investments,” Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, France’s transport minister, said in a statement.
Doubling the current level of cycling would prevent 30,000 premature deaths – primarily from increased physical activity – and bring indirect economic benefits of €78 billion per year, according to UNECE.
Back with a boom
Those nostalgic for the days of the Concorde may be heartened to learn that supersonic passenger transport is making a comeback.
US-based United Airlines announced last Thursday their plan to buy jets capable of travelling at ultra-fast speeds from aerospace company Boom Supersonic, Reuters reports.
While around 50% faster than commercial aircraft, supersonic jets are known for generating significant emissions, raising the eyebrows of environmentalists.
United Airlines clarified that the aircraft won’t hinder their pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050, as the supersonic jets will be optimised to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.
The jets, which will come into service in 2029, are expected to cut transatlantic flying time to around three-and-a-half hours.
A year after the coronavirus pandemic emptied airports, air travel associations fear chaos during Europe’s summer holiday season as travellers could wait hours before boarding planes due to health checks.
The European Commission is “considering rules on mandatory recycled content” for certain plastic components of new vehicles, a move it says will help to bring cars in line with circular use principles.
The car industry has fiercely criticised proposed Euro 7 emissions standards, complaining that the regulation will cripple sales. But this is just another chapter in a long history of misleading the public, writes Anna Krajinska of clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment.
Maersk, the world’s largest shipping firm, called on Wednesday (2 June) for a carbon tax on ship fuel to encourage the transition to cleaner alternatives
The European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday (3 June) that Germany “systematically and persistently” exceeded the annual limit values for nitrogen oxide in Berlin, Dortmund, Hamburg and many other cities.