Where is the ‘road map’ for road transport?

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

Lorries' fuel efficiency has only improved by 3% in the last 20 years. [Paul J Martin/Shutterstock]

Trucks produce a quarter of the EU’s transport emissions, yet their environmental performance remains unregulated. We need strict standards and a level the playing field for all modes of transport, writes Karima Delli.

Karima Delli is a French Green MEP.

Road transport is the second biggest source of global CO2 emissions – after energy production – and thus the second most aggravating factor in global warming. Lorries account for 25-30% of total transport emissions in Europe. This sector is anything but marginal, it may even grow by 10% by 2030. With this in mind, it is more urgent than ever to sound the climate emergency alarm on road transport and turn the COP 21 objectives into actions. While countries like the US and China have already ratified the Paris Agreement, we are still waiting for the EU member states and the European Union itself.

I know the European Commission presented its strategy on the decarbonisation of transport before the summer, but I have serious doubts that this plan will be able to fulfil its objectives. The strategy is missing one essential point: in the last 20 years, the energy efficiency of trucks has increased by just 3%, a fraction of the progress achieved in other sectors. For example, electric light bulbs have cut their CO2 impact by 80%. So let’s ask ourselves why there has been no technological leap and no quantitative effect on carbon emissions in the past 20 years.

One of the main reasons lies in the legislative framework for road transport. There are no CO2 standards for trucks in the EU, unlike the US, Canada, China and Japan. And if Real Driving Emissions (RDE) and Worldwide harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedures (WLTP) are introduced on 1 September 2017, they will still not be binding the truck industry. As rapporteur of the type-approval regulation, I wish we could do the same for heavy-duty vehicles. Because now more than ever, I see that without testing under real conditions, there is no possible market surveillance to check the level of emissions throughout a vehicle’s life.

If legislation has had no effect on efficiency, what about the money that could be saved by more efficient vehicles? This is an embarrassing question for the industry, and it has to do with the structure of the business sector. Since I have been working on the topic, I have come to realise that road transport needs a complete overhaul. The sector is also beginning to show major deregulation on social aspects. And the European Commission itself confessed that the new EU rules on cabotage had not succeeded in making a fairer market or even improving working conditions. So road transport is completely deregulated on both environmental and social aspects.

As a Green MEP and activist, I am used to pushing for the modal shift towards rail or river transport because those means of transport have proven their emission efficiency. I do not see this modal shift as a persecution of lorries. I am just calling for the social and environmental regulations governing road, train and waterways to be placed on an equal footing. As long as there is no fair competition between these sectors, road transport stakeholders will have no incentive to say, “It is in my own interest to make savings on fuel costs.”

As usual, economic benefits meet environmental ones. So let’s do it. And if we need to go further to fully comply with the COP 21 objectives, there are many possibilities to explore in the fields of research with greener and alternative fuels, intelligent transport systems (ITS), better multimodality connecting road transport with other means of transport, as well as logistics optimisation, green transport for the last kilometres and all the new projects that are emerging at a local level. I will put these issues forward to improve the Commission’s forthcoming initiatives on the decarbonisation of transport.

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