Decarbonising road transport must be prioritised

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Decarbonising European transport requires urgent action, but we are missing crucial opportunities to capitalise on available solutions, writes Robert Wright.

Robert Wright is Secretary General of ePURE, a Brussels-based organisation that represents the interests of the ethanol industry.

With road transport emissions likely to become Europe’s number one source of emissions in years to come, decarbonising transport must be at the heart of Europe’s climate change ambitions as we head into COP21, in Paris. Europe needs to create the taxation environment to facilitate practical solutions now rather than later.

Europe’s dependency on oil for transport is costing €1 billion each day, the European Commission has warned, and 95% of energy consumed in European transport derives from oil, representing two thirds of Europe’s total oil use. As a result of this reliance on oil, Europe’s transport sector is now its second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 26% of Europe’s total.

This week, the European Environment Agency published a report outlining progress towards Europe’s climate target of a 20% greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. The good news is that Europe is on course to overachieve on this target and reduce its emissions by 24% by 2020. However, more action is needed to reduce emissions from transport, which is the only sector where emissions increased compared to 1990 levels – and by a particularly concerning amount of nearly 20%.

In a recent speech on the Energy Union, Commissioner Maroš Sefcovic recognised the need for action to tackle Europe’s transport emissions. Whilst this acknowledgement is welcome, it is not yet clear how the Commission plans to do this. Everyone agrees that Europe needs to reduce emissions from transport, but the practical solutions for doing so are limited.

Low carbon alternative fuels, such as renewable ethanol, are the only realistic and viable option to reduce transport sector emissions up to 2020 – and they are available now. The renewable ethanol produced by ePURE’s member companies has high net GHG (greenhouse gas) savings (of about 60% compared to fossil fuel) and low-ILUC (indirect land-use change), and is the type of “good biofuel” Europe should prioritise. Renewable ethanol not only reduces petrol’s GHG emissions but also, when used at higher blends, reduces damaging CO, HC and particulate emissions from petrol. Of course electro-mobility, and other fuel options have a role to play in decarbonising transport, but their contribution to significantly reducing GHG emissions in transport before 2020 will be limited and curbed by technical and practical issues.

The recent diesel emissions scandal has cast doubts over the reliability of engine technology to reduce tail pipe emissions, making the need for the Commission to prioritise measures to decarbonise liquid transport-fuels more urgent. Renewable ethanol is a proven and affordable low carbon fuel that can be mixed with petrol and used easily in the existing vehicle fleet to reduce emissions. It is already widely available, requires no major changes to fuel or technological infrastructure, and is an immediate solution to reduce transport emissions.

The current punitive tax treatment of petrol and biofuels must also be addressed. Preferential treatment of diesel needs to end, and Europe must adopt tax measures that promote low carbon fuels, not hinder them.

The next year will be crucial for the future of European transport and the Commission is due to present a Communication on the decarbonisation of transport before the summer. With this in mind, a group of advanced ethanol companies, along with ePURE, last week published a manifesto calling on European policy makers to introduce measures to support higher biofuel blends and advanced biofuels up to 2030. Changes such as these are a necessary supporting pillar to achieving Europe’s climate target for 40% greenhouse gas reductions.

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