Parliament showdown looms as Council agrees a common position

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EU countries adopted their position on three significant pieces of transport legislation last week, an essential step in bringing the so-called Fit for 55 proposals into force.

The adoption tees up negotiations with the European Parliament, which will soon agree on its own stance on the Fit for 55 files.

For those who aren’t steeped in EU legislation minutiae, “Fit for 55” is the name bestowed on a package of climate legislation put forward by the European Commission in July of last year, which charts a path to cutting emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

It is, at its core, about ensuring Europe can meet its interim climate target, a major stepping stone towards the goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

Whether the Brussels branding of “Fit for 55” adequately communicates that green ambition to the broader public is open to debate, but for those policy wonks, lobbyists, and journalists that ply their trade in the Brussels bubble, the title rolls off the tongue.

The three files in question concern recharging infrastructure for vehicles, ships, and planes (“the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation”); low-carbon fuel requirements for shipping (“FuelEU Maritime”); and the mandating of green aviation fuels (“ReFuelEU Aviation”).

While much of the Commission’s original proposals remain in the Council’s general approach agreement, there are some deviations. Of course, this is not surprising – member states are responsible for enacting the legislation on their territory, meaning they pass a particularly critical eye over proposals stemming from the Berlaymont.

Under the AFIR proposal, member states will be obliged to provide charging stations at set intervals along the EU’s main transport corridors (known as the TEN-T network) to better facilitate clean vehicles. However, the Council wants exceptions for areas with low traffic volumes, increasing the maximum distance between recharging pools for sections with very low traffic.

The Council also wants to review the technological and market developments surrounding charging infrastructure for heavy-duty vehicles in the short term, a sector they expect to develop rapidly.

When it comes to FuelEU Maritime, member states have watered down requirements for onshore power supply for ships and added exemptions for areas with “specific geographical circumstances”, which includes very small islands and the EU’s outermost regions.

One of the most significant changes to ReFuelEU Aviation is a proposed extension to the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) designation. The Council wants to see any certified biofuel that complies with EU sustainability and emissions saving criteria included as a SAF (under the Commission proposal, only biofuels listed under Annex 9 of the Renewable Energy Directive are eligible). However, biofuels from food and feed crops remain excluded.

Member states also want the power to grant an exemption from the SAF tankering provisions in the case that there is a recurring difficulty in procuring the mandated green aviation fuel.

Some NGOs were quick to condemn the Council’s positions for not going far enough. The Clean Air Task Force, a global non-profit organisation, called the Council’s position on AFIR and FuelEU Maritime “deeply unambitious”, arguing that it will not lead to the necessary emissions reductions in the maritime sector.

“While the initial Commission proposals were a long-overdue step in the right direction, the Council’s stance represents a major setback,” the organisation said in a press release.

Noise pollution from traffic could harm child development

Those chronically subjected to the tyranny of road traffic noise – engine roars, horn blasts, tyre squeals – will instinctively understand the hindrance it poses to general well-being.

Indeed, the adverse health effects of noise pollution are well-known. An inability to find quiet can lead to higher blood pressure, diabetes, and an increased risk of a heart attack.

But a new study from Spain has found an alarming correlation: school children in Barcelona exposed to high traffic noise levels experienced slower cognitive development than those in quieter schools.

Focusing on seven to 10-year-olds, the study found that high volumes of street traffic sounds lessened crucial memory and attention skills. The Guardian reported that memory development was 23% slower, while the ability to pay attention was 5% slower.

Of course, it is not particularly surprising that having large trucks rumbling past school children trying to learn is not a good idea. But this scientific study, which involved over 2,700 children, is one of the first to quantify the effects.

By way of solution, scientists recommend rerouting traffic away from schools. This would have the knock-on benefit of improving air quality and would make it safer for children to move around.

The switch to electric vehicles, which are much quieter than their internal combustion engine counterparts, will also help alleviate the problem of traffic noise (though general safety issues stemming from the mixing of children and vehicles will remain).

MEPs prepare to vote in Strasbourg

The European Parliament will vote this week on a range of Fit for 55 proposals, helping to define the extent to which the EU’s green ambitions are realised.

Transport files subject to the approval of MEPs include the revision of the emission trading system (including the establishment of a separate carbon market for road transport and buildings), the revision of the EU emissions trading system for aviation and CORSIA (the UN’s aviation carbon offsetting scheme), and CO2 emission standards for cars and vans.

In general, the files have proven controversial in committee, with a clear divide emerging among Parliament groups. The key sticking points for each file are:

  • The extra expense that the ETS extension to road transport could place on the poorest in society (those in favour argue the Social Climate Fund will effectively alleviate the burden on the poor).
  • The extension of the EU carbon market for aviation from intra-EU flights only to all flights, which industry says will undermine CORSIA discussions and harm the competitiveness of EU airlines. Proponents say it is necessary to ensure the cost of flying better reflects its environmental impact.
  • The proposed ban on the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles from 2035. Green-minded MEPs are strongly in favour of what they say is a vital measure for the environment, though some on the right believe the ICE ban is premature and will hurt industry and consumers.

The vote will take place on Wednesday, 8 June – EURACTIV will have more information as it becomes available.

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[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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