Decarbonising transport: EU going in right direction

Written by Henna Virkkunen on 21 June 2017 in Opinion

The Commission has put forward a number of proposals to decarbonise transport in Europe - now member states need a common framework, writes Henna Virkkunen.

Henna Virkkunen | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Mobility is a necessity: people and goods move more than ever and this trend will continue in the future. It is estimated that passenger transport will grow by more than 40 per cent by 2050 compared to 2010, while freight transport is expected to grow even more, by 60 per cent. The mobility sector plays a vital role in the EU economy and society.

Simultaneously, the EU has committed to meet ambitious climate targets. As the transport sector is among the biggest emitters, especially road transport, this is where action must be focused. 94 per cent of transport still relies on oil products. 

It is clear that we need significant reductions of CO2 emissions, not mobility. New services provided by digitalisation and better traffic planning enable existing transport capacity to be utilised more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly way.


Last year the Commission presented a new strategy for low-emission mobility to decarbonise transport, promote low-emission vehicles, and scale up the use of renewable electricity for transport. It stressed the need for interoperability, better infrastructure for charging and EU-wide standardisation for electro-mobility. This is the right direction. It is important that member states also implement the measures in a timely manner.

There are a number of measures available for member states to encourage consumers to use zero and low-emission vehicles. Many member states offer purchasing subsidies, lower taxation for electric vehicles or increased taxes on fossil fuel use.

In order to achieve cleaner, competitive and connected mobility, a common framework and standards as well as supporting measures are required at EU level. We need integrated infrastructure planning, better charging infrastructure, ultrafast connections such as 5G and Galileo services to facilitate communication between vehicles, research and innovation, and platforms for cooperation between stakeholders.

The deployment of electric vehicles can help reduce emissions considerably. With recent advancements in battery technology, today almost every car manufacturer produces electric vehicles. 

It has been estimated that electric cars could make up a quarter of the world's vehicles by 2040. However, electric cars represented only 1.2 per cent of all new cars sold in the EU in 2015. Although the sales numbers are rising, it is essential to boost deployment.

In order to accelerate the deployment of electric cars, the EU and member states should create incentives for both the manufacturers and potential users. It is important that member states adopt their own low-emission strategies in which they combine national, regional and local measures to reduce emissions.

Although the EU and member states have introduced several measures to incentivise manufacturers to reduce the CO2 emissions and potential users to find these products, more needs to be done. A combination of incentives and coherent policy framework is needed in accelerating electric vehicle market development.

The energy performance of buildings directive, which is currently under negotiation, aims for the deployment of six million charging points in non-residential and residential buildings. 

However, more information should be provided for consumers. Studies show that potential users do not always know the capabilities of electric vehicles and often criticise the lack of information available about charging points. Also, car labelling schemes should be revised to provide information tailored to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The long-awaited mobility package introduced by the Commission is one step further in the right direction. The Commission proposes among other things that zero-emission cars get a mandatory 75 per cent reduction from road charges. Measures for car labelling and better information for consumers can also be found from the Commission's proposals. 

Proposals for post-2020 emission standards for cars and vans, as well as heavy-duty vehicles, are also expected later this year. Emission standards will pave the way for low-emission vehicles in a technology-neutral way.

In the short and medium term, it is clear that EU will still have to rely on conventional vehicles, while cleaner technologies develop. Therefore, it is important to make better use of the existing transport capacity via intelligent transport systems and better traffic management. 

Also, the Commission should find ways to support the deployment of sustainable alternative fuels as a short and medium term solution to reduce emissions and achieve our climate targets. 

To drive innovative mobility solutions and competitiveness, further investments in research and innovation are necessary. Batteries for example are key enabling technology in cleaner mobility. Therefore, the Commission's plans to scale up battery cells and battery packs production to develop a complete battery value chain in the EU are very welcomed. 

Research and innovation are paramount in restoring Europe's competitiveness and growth. Only with joint action at EU, national, regional and local level in collaboration with industry and stakeholders, can Europe be a global leader in future mobility.


About the author

Henna Virkkunen (FI) is Parliament's EPP group shadow rapporteur on sustainable urban mobility


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