EU’s decarbonisation plans scrutinised by divided transport industry

Violeta Bulc [European Commission]

This article is part of our special report Road transport.

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc has to make good on a few promises she made before the summer break.

Bulc published a plan to cut carbon emissions from the transport sector in July that sent a chill through the car industry and perked up the ears of MEPs and environmental NGOs who had been pushing for measures including an EU-wide cap on truck pollution.

In July, Bulc’s announcement included a lot of detail that could mean dramatic changes for the transport sector. The executive will promote cleaner fuels for transport and vehicle types that produce fewer emissions, like electric or fuel cell cars, for example.

Some of the commissioner’s ideas will mean major changes for transport companies and will also force regulators to reconsider legislation: Bulc has promoted connected and driverless car technologies as another way to cut emissions, once they’re commercially available. Over the weekend, Bulc spelled out her support for those technologies at the G7 transport ministers’ meeting in Japan—in November, she’ll publish a detailed plan of how she wants to push them in the EU.

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60% emissions reduction by 2050

The Commission had been under pressure to cut emissions from transport for a while. Five years ago, the executive promised a 60% reduction from the sector by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

MEPs pointed out that while other areas, like industry and housing, managed to clean up their act, emissions levels from transport—especially from automobiles and aviation—kept climbing.

“The transport sector is nullifying all the efforts that have been done with taxpayer money in other sectors,” German Green MEP Michael Cramer, the chair of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee, told

Bulc’s plans to slash emissions will come in piece by piece over the next three years. Next week, she’ll be in Montreal to negotiate for the EU in a meeting of ICAO, a UN body, focused on limiting emissions from aviation.

Many campaigners reacted positively to the commissioner’s decarbonisation agenda on the whole, although some criticised the plans back in July for being too soft on policing aviation emissions.

Other industries have piped up since the commissioner presented her plans to tout the progress they’ve made to use less fuel or produce fewer emissions.

The car industry had lobbied against one of the bombshell’s in the July announcement: a first-ever binding limit on emissions from trucks across the EU. Bulc said she would propose the new standard for trucks by the end of her mandate in 2019. Other countries outside the EU, including the US, Canada and Japan, already have binding standards for trucks.

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Calls for ‘balanced approach’

When Bulc went public with her plans, car industry association ACEA called for a “more balanced approach” that doesn’t put too much of the emission-cutting burden on road transport while going easy on other modes of transport.

ACEA secretary general Erik Jonnaert called the Commission’s decarbonisation agenda “very ambitious” but insisted the industry would “do its part to continue reducing CO2 emissions across its entire portfolio, which includes passenger cars, vans, trucks and buses”.

To varying degrees, the different industries of the transport sector—road transport, rail, aviation and maritime—compete with each other for shipping and passenger traffic. Each of those corners is waiting eagerly for more details and the first proposals to come out of Bulc’s plans—for some, big business is at stake.

The Commission’s decarbonisation strategy specifies that policymakers will have an eye towards “incentivising a shift towards lower emission transport modes such as inland waterways, short-sea shipping and rail.” Upcoming EU rules to overhaul how the rail sector works should “make rail more competitive and attractive for both passengers and freight,” according to the strategy.

That won’t make everyone happy in the transport sector.

Bulc will give a recorded keynote tomorrow (27 September) at a Brussels conference, where companies from different transport industries will gather to mull over the decarbonisation initiative.

Road freight bracing for change

The road freight industry—which now outweighs shipping on rail or any other mode of transport in Europe—is bracing itself for changes.

The sector will be hit with a new set of rules early next year, when Bulc proposes changes including an overhaul of how trucks are tolled and new measures to rein in how truckers can work when driving between EU countries.

MEPs have asked the Commission to consider a tolling system that would encourage cleaner trucks by charging them according to their CO2 emissions levels or energy efficiency.

Currently, railways and automobiles are tolled very differently. Michael Cramer called the large gaps between the tolling systems “unfair competition”.

“One hundred percent of the rail network is tolled and only one percent of the road network,” he said.

MEPs demand Commission propose tolls on trucks to curb CO2 emissions

EXCLUSIVE / Fourteen MEPs have signed a letter to EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc demanding the European Commission propose legislation to impose new tolls on trucks.

Transport is responsible for around a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second biggest greenhouse gas emitting sector after energy.

Road transport alone contributes about one-fifth of the EU's total emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.

While emissions from other sectors are generally falling, those from transport have continued to increase until 2008 when transport emissions started to decrease on the back of oil prices, increased efficiency of passenger cars and slower growth in mobility.

Trucks, buses and coaches produce about a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport in the EU, and some 5% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions – a greater share than international aviation or shipping, according to the European Commission.

Despite some improvements in fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions from Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDVs) rose by some 36% between 1990 and 2010, mainly due to increasing road freight traffic.

In May 2014, the European Commission set out a strategy to curb CO2 emissions from HDVs over the coming years. It is the EU’s first initiative to tackle such emissions from trucks, buses and coaches.

The Commission said it intends to propose legislation in 2015 which would require CO2 emissions from new HDVs to be certified, reported and monitored.

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