Interesting times ahead

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Editor’s note: This is the last edition of the Transport Brief before the holiday break (the next edition will be released on 11 January). My sincere thanks for reading this past year, and my best wishes for a safe and peaceful holiday period. I look forward to connecting in the new year! – Sean

While 2021 may mainly be remembered as another year in the ongoing COVID saga – one of strained healthcare systems, yo-yoing restrictions, panicked travel bans, and mass unrest – from an EU policy perspective, it was a year in which climate change took centre stage.

With the Fit for 55 package of climate laws, the European Commission outlined how to turn its lofty Green Deal aspiration of climate neutrality by 2050 into reality. This was the meat on the bones of the Commission’s soaring environmental rhetoric.

In the transport sector, policy debates revolved around cutting Europe’s notoriously high mobility emissions without severely harming industries or curtailing movement. The complexity inherent in shifting to greener modes of transport occupied lawmakers, lobbyists, and journalists for much of the year.

And, just as 2021 was ending, the Commission unveiled yet more green laws – the efficient and green mobility package.

Comprising four initiatives, the package was presented by EU climate chief Frans Timmermans last week, who framed it as a vital part of the EU’s drive to cut transport carbon emissions.

“[These] proposals set European mobility on track for a sustainable future: faster European rail connections with easy-to-find tickets and improved passenger rights, support for cities to increase and improve public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling, and making the best possible use of solutions for smart and efficient driving,” Timmermans said.

Under the proposals, the EU’s primary transport routes, known as the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), will be upgraded to facilitate quicker and more efficient cross-border travel. At the same time, the rail Action Plan will make it easier to purchase a ticket for an international train journey.

It is hoped that improving and unifying rail ticket purchasing would allow rail to better compete with aviation. The Commission will also investigate an EU-wide VAT exemption for train tickets to cut prices across the bloc.

An updated Intelligent Transport Systems Directive was put forward, reflecting advancements in areas such as journey planners, data sharing, and automated driving.

The Commission also tabled the “Urban Mobility Framework”, which outlines methods for cities to shift to greener transport. In addition to tips on promoting active transport options such as walking and cycling, the proposal sets out measures to make taxis and ride-hailing services cleaner.

Reactions to the package have been largely positive. Even Greenpeace, an NGO known for its exacting environmental standards, said the rail portion of the package “exceeds expectations”.

Much of this year saw the various Brussels-bubble types start to formulate their position towards the Commission proposals. Next year will see further progress made as compromises are struck and positions are solidified.

Indeed, 2022 promises to be just as interesting – for better and worse – as 2021.

For more information on the efficient and green mobility package, read the article below.

EU environment ministers balk at Commission carbon market extension proposals

Frans Timmermans was once again on the defensive Monday (20 December) after representatives from member states said the Commission’s plan to extend the EU’s carbon market would impact those who can least afford it.

The Commission wants a parallel Emission Trading System (ETS) to be created for road transport and buildings, essentially putting a price on carbon emitted by these sectors.

According to Timmermans, the ETS is one of the best policy tools to influence behaviour positively.

“I believe it is an essential element of the [Fit for 55] package because if you look at where emissions are still going up, it’s in transport. And we need to do something there,” Timmermans said.

But a Council meeting of EU environment ministers saw pointed criticism of the ETS extension.

“The measure would create a lot of social tensions but not much result in emissions reduction. We should not risk that the fight against climate change loses the support of the citizens,” said Hungary.

The impact on the poorest in society became a recurring theme in arguments against the ETS expansion, with Slovakia and Romania also warning that extended carbon pricing could hit living standards for low-income citizens.

However, not all countries agreed. Germany welcomed the proposed expansion and “beefing up” of the ETS, as did Sweden and Denmark.

Read more at the link below.

Airlines and airports call for an end to travel restrictions

Just in time for the holiday season, the surge in cases of the Omicron variant has seen governments across Europe impose additional restrictions on travellers.

Several countries, including Italy, Ireland, and Greece, now require proof of a negative test in addition to the vaccination pass.

In response, airline and airport trade associations have called on governments to halt the “unnecessary” restrictions, arguing that targeting vaccinated travellers puts the EU Digital Covid Certificate at risk.

“Maintaining testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers will only bring hardship to the livelihoods and economies of those affected by and reliant upon the travel industry. There is no longer any corresponding health safety benefit,” Olivier Jankovec, director-general of ACI EUROPE and Thomas Reynaert, managing director of Airlines for Europe (A4E), said in a joint statement.

With Christmas less than a week away and passenger numbers expected to swell, it remains to be seen if governments will reverse course.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Commission tables ‘green mobility’ laws to modernise EU transport network

The European Commission on Tuesday (14 December) unveiled four initiatives aimed at readying Europe’s transport network for a low-carbon future – a set of proposals hailed by Greenpeace as “exceeding expectations” when it comes to promoting rail transport.

EU split on proposals to extend carbon pricing to road transport, ban polluting cars

EU countries remain divided on proposals to tighten carbon emission standards for cars and extend the EU’s carbon market to the road transport sector, with the fault line running largely between richer and less-wealthy member states.

Ringfencing waste oils for jet fuel won’t benefit the climate, researcher says

Using biofuels from waste lipids to meet the EU’s proposed sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mandate will leave a shortfall in other transport sectors, erasing any net climate benefit, Chelsea Baldino of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has said.

Road hauliers warn EU against green taxes without clean alternatives

Industry leaders in the heavy-duty vehicle sector have criticised EU plans to increase carbon taxes on commercial road transport in the next years, arguing that it is unjust to do so before clean solutions for road freight and coaches are widely affordable.

MEP Anna Fotyga: Dumped munitions pose threat to human health and blue economy

Europe’s destructive twentieth-century conflicts resulted in thousands of tonnes of conventional and chemical munitions dumped into European waters. Today, these corroding weapons pose a danger to human health and maritime economic activities. Now, more than ever, these dumped munitions must be cleared, says MEP Anna Fotyga.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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