Member states haggle over ‘low-carbon mobility’ goals

Airplane vapor trails over Uccle, Belgium. [Georgi Gotev]

The European Commission is having “very intense discussions” with member states over the individual emissions reduction percentage that they will be assigned to reduce emissions in sectors not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme, a top EU official told journalists today (31 May).

Maroš Šefčovič, the Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union, who regularly updates the press on work in progress regarding the Energy Union, devoted substantial attention to the situation in the non-ETS sector and to the issue of “low-carbon mobility”, or reducing emissions from transport (see background).

The non-ETS sectors refer to areas not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme for greenhouse gases, which currently covers mainly power generation and energy-intensive industries such as cement, chemicals and steelmaking.

Šefčovič stressed that without breakthroughs in new technologies, research and innovation, it would be a big challenge to achieve global targets for 2030, 2050, and to have a carbon-neutral economy by the end of the century, as EU countries committed to at COP21.

He said that the Pact of Amsterdam approved yesterday (31 May) was a very good setting for moving the agenda forward, thanks to bottom-up initiatives and involving mayors, who very much want to be part of this initiative, and NGOs.

The ‘Pact of Amsterdam’ which establishes the Urban Agenda for the EU, will focus on a more effective and coherent implementation of existing EU policies in cities in the fields of environment, transport and employment.

Effort-sharing decision before summer

The Commission Vice-President said that under COP21, EU countries need to present their roadmaps for how they plan to achieve their climate goals up to 2050, and that a first stock-taking would take place in 2020. He added that at EU level, the effort-sharing decisions would be adopted before the summer break, in one legislative package on low-carbon mobility.

Šefčovič stated that the European Commission would be working very closely with the member states, once its effort-sharing proposal would be on the table.

“Currently we are on a very intense discussion at political and technical level with our member states on what should be the percentage we would offer to each member state by which they would need to reduce GHG emission in non-ETS sector, meaning transport, agriculture and the buildings,” Šefčovič said.

Then he added that it was important to see “how vibrant and interested the cities are”, because in his view, this is where 70% of Europeans are living and where we have the most challenges in transport and GHG emissions.

Šefčovič stressed the importance of European research, innovation and competitiveness strategy, which is where the executive would like to concentrate on the key enabling technologies.

His mentioned his forthcoming trip, with Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas, to San Francisco, for the 7th Clean Energy Ministerial and Inaugural Mission Innovation Ministerial. The Commission Vice-President said that this was becoming a very important body, with 20 members – the world’s energy leaders – who are “very serious about tackling climate change” and who declared that they are ready to double their research and innovations budget. He said he hopes the European Commission would be able to join Mission Innovation, on behalf of the EU, on the occasion of their visit.

Šefčovič said that he would meet with US Secretary for Energy Ernest Moniz. He said that the executive was doing more that redoubling its efforts, by supporting research by a billion euros a year, and increasing this support to the tune of €10.2 billion for the next seven years.

The Commission Vice-President also stated that the US and the European Commission will organise a lab for the harmonisation and standardisation of electric cars. He said he was going to visit the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, and that collaboration would cover not only electric cars, but also smart grid interoperability which is needed in the context of the increased number of electric cars.

“Mission Innovation” works very well with the “Breakthrough Energy Coalition” established by Bill Gates, Šefčovič said, adding that there would be a lot of joint events for exploring how public-private partnerships could work in this field of research for the future.

Global agreement on aviation by October

Šefčovič explained that road transport is the biggest GHG emitter, but that the Commission was not forgetting aviation and maritime shipping. With ICAO, he said, the executive hopes for a breakthrough agreement on reducing GHG by October.

Despite some attempts from the EU side, negotiations to agree on a global deal to reduce flight emissions have so far failed been inconclusive.

“We are working very hard for global agreement and the first step should be that emissions from the aviation should peak in 2020 and stay there”.

He said that with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the progress was similar. “First what is needed is to establish the case, and see what are the next steps.”

Regarding roads, Šefčovič said that the Commission was considering what the best way is and would come back with a package of proposals next year. He said a lot should be done in terms of better organisation of logistics, deployment of transport intelligent systems.

“We need to have another look at the fuels, how to deal with biofuels, how to include advanced biofuels and gradually phase-out the biofuels of the first generation,” Šefčovič added.

The European Commission has been quite hesitant and contradictory in its biofuel policy, and EU laws requiring member states to use “at least 10%” renewable energy in transport will be scrapped after 2020, the EU executive has stated.

Green transport target will be scrapped post-2020, EU confirms

EU laws requiring member states to use “at least 10%” renewable energy in transport will be scrapped after 2020, the European Commission confirmed, hoping to set aside a protracted controversy surrounding the environmental damage caused by biofuels.

Šefčovič also said the Commission will have to look what can be done to increase the efficiency of combustion engines and promote the zero-emission cars. “Europe should look at the experience of USA, Canada. They already have emission limits for trucks.”

He also said the executive would adopt a new procedure for type approval for the cars.

“We want to be stricter than before, we would like to cut the links between the companies that are measuring the emissions and the car companies themselves, and we would like to introduce real-drive emission tests”, in the light of the recent “negative experience,” he said, in alluding to the Volkswagen scandal.

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.

The EU has policies in place to reduce emissions from a range of modes of transport, such as including aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and CO2 emissions targets for cars.

The Commission plans to announce a strategy on “decarbonising transport” by the end of June/early July.

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