When it comes to cutting Europe’s CO2, trucks drive under the radar

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

Netherlands, 2014. [Oggy28/Flickr]

Heavy duty vehicles account for a significant portion of CO2 emissions, and their impact is only supposed to increase. New measures must be adopted quickly in order to achieve climate goals, writes Carlos Calvo Ambel.

Carlos Calvo Ambel is a policy analyst at Transport & Environment.

At any given time, on any given road in Europe, it is likely you will find yourself driving alongside a large HGV. These powerful highway mammoths transport three quarters of all goods in Europe and are a key part of the modern, just-in-time economy. It is thanks to these vehicles that I can enjoy fresh oranges in Brussels, a day after they were picked in my home region in the south of Spain. That is great, because for an Andalusian like me, oranges are key to surviving northern Europe’s cold winters.

But we also know that big trucks aren’t harmless machines working for the common good. Citizens are rightly worried about the great number of people dying in accidents involving HGVs. People are also generally aware that trucks are big contributors to the noise and air pollution that causes serious health problems. That is why regulators have, with varying degrees of ambition and success, taken action to tackle these problems.

When it comes to climate policy though, heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) drive under the radar. Ironically, the big beasts of Europe’s highways go almost unnoticed in the EU’s debate about what we need to do to meet our climate goals.

But is it right that trucks and buses stay out of the limelight? We had a look at the numbers.

In 2012, transport, including international aviation and shipping, was directly responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU, according to the latest consolidated data. Road transport is by far the largest source within the sector. Depending on whether we include international aviation and shipping, road transport emits between 75% and almost 100% of transport emissions. In 2012, HDVs were responsible for around 30% of road transport emissions, more than 5% of EU GHG emissions. So around 5% of vehicles emit around 30% of CO2, which seems befitting of their impressive size and stature.

That is where we currently are. But where are we headed? What will happen to HDV emissions in the coming decades?

All available models and scenarios assume that road freight and HDV emissions will continue to grow. For example, the International Transport Forum estimates road freight CO2 will increase by up to 50% by 2050. At the same time, CO2 standards and green taxation are making passenger cars cleaner. The number of cars on our roads and the kilometres they travel also seem to be levelling off. All of this explains why HDVs will take an even greater share of transport emissions.

Based on existing models and given that new standards are planned to be introduced for cars and vans, it is likely that by 2030 freight will be more important for road emissions than passenger transportation.

The EU is currently preparing the implementation of the 2030 climate package and a decarbonisation of transport strategy. For HDVs, we propose a package of measures that will produce significant benefits for the logistics industry and the economy, as well as put a stop to the freight sector’s ever increasing emissions. Our package has three key components.

First, we need the introduction of fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-goods vehicles. The standards must be set at a level that is technically feasible and that pays back in the first four to five years, the first period of ownership. According to the best available EU and US studies, this potential is probably between 35% and 50%.

Second, there must be differentiation of tolls and taxes on the basis of CO2. Fiscal incentives could help accelerate the uptake of more efficient vehicles and make it even more economical to buy a new, ultra-efficient truck. Currently there are basically no fiscal incentives to buy fuel-efficient vehicles and with fuel prices low and undermined by fuel tourism and rebates, they have lost much of their force.

Third, there must be speedy adoption of technical rules for new lorry designs, as agreed in Directive 2015/719. This new law has removed the length limit for the front of trucks and enables more aerodynamic designs while providing lorry manufacturers with extra space and weight for fuel-saving technologies. To get the better vehicles on the road by 2020, the rules should be agreed in 2017.

Trucks are speed-limited so they drive considerably slower than most cars. However, if we want to arrive on time in a climate-friendly future, we need the EU to accelerate the pace for HDVs. The Commission needs to do much more to ensure this sector takes more responsibility, in line with its growing importance.

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