Putting a price on road emissions could come with a cost

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In theory, hiking taxes is a simple way to compel behaviour change, a tried-and-tested model that follows the economic laws of elasticity and consumer demand.

Tax cigarettes and smoking becomes less attractive. Tax alcohol and people will drink less.

But tax petrol and diesel and rather than seeing motorists reborn as Lycra-clad cyclists, you may get a violent reaction.

Such is the lesson from France in 2018, when an increase of about 10 euro cents per litre of fuel led to the gilets jaunes movement – the yellow vests.

So, what is an eco-minded government to do? Burning fossil fuels exacerbates the climate crisis and should be discouraged but it is unfair to penalise those who are reliant on their internal combustion engine vehicle, either for work or due to a lack of alternative transport options.

The European Commission has decided that part of the answer lies in putting a price on road transport emissions and using the money generated to soften the impact of the price increase.

Diederik Samsom, the chief of staff of EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, defended the EU decision to extend the Emission Trading System (the EU’s carbon market) at an online event last week.

“The advantages of the ETS are it will deliver you to the [climate] target, it will incentivise the right players in the system, and it will create revenues to guarantee a just transition,” he argued.

According to Samson, the ETS road extension will be aimed at big fuel producers and importers, encouraging them to decarbonise fuel.

Environmentalists, however, are unhappy with the decision, arguing that increasing fuel emissions standards, rather than extending the ETS, would lead to better, more equitable, results.

The Commission counters that both stricter standards and carbon-pricing will lead to higher prices, but only one option generates revenue which can be used to soften the blow.

Read more below.

Biofuel blues

The European Commission’s approach to biofuels is facing criticism both for being too strict and for not being strict enough. Industry says the limit on crop-based biofuels will harm efforts to decarbonise the transport sector, while green NGOs say that crop-based fuels should be phased out completely.

The biofuel industry and NGOs were reacting to the leaked draft of the renewable energy directive update, due to be presented on 14 July as part of a wider climate legislation package.

“Unfortunately, the Commission has recently shown it still seems inclined to seek to minimise the contribution of crop-based biofuels from the road transport energy mix – even though such biofuels have been the main contributor to displacing fossil fuel and are essential to meeting 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets,” said Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary-general of ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association.

Read the full story below.

Women in rail

Bodies representing railway sector employers and employees are currently negotiating a binding agreement on the promotion of women’s employment in the rail sector. Following a COVID-driven hiatus, the European Commission-supported negotiations are again underway.

“There are too many barriers preventing women from choosing a career or staying in the rail sector. It’s time to shatter those barriers, and our negotiations will play a significant part in doing so,” said Sabine Trier, Deputy General Secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation, in a statement.

“Pay, work-life balance, women’s health and safety, sexual harassment… they’re all on the table.”

Women currently account for only 21% of the railway workforce, a figure which has been criticised as far too low by both trade unions and rail companies.

In other rail news, a proposed Arctic railway line linking northern Finland with the Norwegian port of Kirkenes has been rejected by Lapland’s regional council, as reported by the Barents Observer.

The railway line would have connected the Finnish railway system with Arctic shipping routes at an estimated cost of €2.9 billion.

The route had attracted interest from investors both in China and the EU but was criticised for its potential impact on native reindeer herds – a culturally sensitive issue for the indigenous Sámi people.

Council members cited the negative impact on Sámi culture as the primary reason for rejecting the railway.

Paris is for pedestrians

The French capital plans on banning most vehicle traffic from crossing the city centre in 2022, Bloomberg reports.

The move, announced by mayor Anne Hidalgo last week, aims to make the city more pleasant, improving air quality, reducing noise, and encouraging walking and cycling.

While residents and visitors can still access Paris’s streets, those cutting across the city without stopping will be banned (upwards of 100,000 cars a day).

Hidalgo, who sits on the board of the Global Covenant of Mayors, a cities-led movement to cut emissions, has long sought to limit cars’ domination of Paris.

Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Tuesday (18 May) that all new company cars in the country must be electric by 2026. De Croo said the decision aims to cut CO2 emissions and accelerate the uptake of green technology.


A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

EU to launch ‘adjacent’ carbon market for transport, buildings

A senior EU official on Tuesday (11 May) defended European Commission plans to extend the bloc’s carbon market to road transport, arguing that revenues generated could be used to offset the effects of higher fuel prices on the poorest in society.

EU’s dismissal of crop-based biofuels will impede transport decarbonisation: industry

The EU’s decision to cap the share of crop-based biofuels in the bloc’s energy mix risks hampering efforts to decarbonise the transport sector, industry has warned ahead of the revision of the renewable energy directive.

Brussels spells out EU air quality goals as part of ‘zero pollution’ plan

Europe needs to halve premature deaths caused by air pollution by 2030 and bring air quality standards closer to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, according to the European Commission’s zero pollution action plan, announced on Wednesday (12 May).

Spanish parliament to ban sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040

The Spanish parliament approved a clean energy bill on Thursday (13 May), aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in line with EU-level ambition and banning the sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040.

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