Is Europe really on track for low-emission mobility?

Written by Karoline Graswander-Hainz on 26 January 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

Karoline Graswander-Hainz wonders whether the Commission’s proposals on low-emission mobility will really help Europe clean up its transport sector.

Karoline Graswander-Hainz | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


To fulfil its Paris agreement commitments, Europe needs swift, radical action. While many sectors have made substantial progress in recent years, transport and mobility are among the more challenging obstacles on Europe’s path to a low-emission economy.

The EU is growing and so is our traffic. Between 1990 and 2013, the population of the 28 member states increased by 30 million people. The number of cars increased by 84 million.

As the demand for transport has grown, so too have fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1990 the only sector that hasn’t cut its greenhouse gas emissions is transport.


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Rising traffic density is consuming all progress made through fuel and vehicle efficiency. Emissions from the transport sector have increased by 28 per cent since 1990. It is the source of one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe and the main reason for air pollution in cities.

Given the EU’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, it’s clear that immediate and drastic action is needed. The shift to low-emission transport systems as part of the overarching move to a low-emission economy can create new sustainable jobs and benefit society overall.

While the EU recalibrates two of its most important tools for emission reduction, the emission-trading system and effort-sharing, the adoption of the communication on a ‘European strategy for low-emission mobility’. highlights the need for specific action in the transport sector. The Commission proposes action in three main areas approved and broadened by in December: transport system efficiency, low-emission and alternative energies in transport and a shift to low- and zero-emission vehicles.

As ever, the difficulty is to establish a congruence between ambitious wording and actual policy action. This means assessing whether the Commission’s proposed legislation, mainly brought forward as part of the mobility package, can reach the goals we have set. 

For example, new CO2 targets for cars and vans (a proposed reduction of 15 per cent for 2025 and 30 per cent for 2030 compared to 2021 levels) are widely seen as disappointing; many hoped for a stronger signal to the automobile industry.

The fights and discussions in Parliament will be long and hard. Ahead of the vote on the renewable energy directive, I have received hundreds of letters from concerned citizens asking for a phase-out of first generation biofuels. Many even oppose the Commission’s proposed lowering of the threshold within the renewable energy directive. 

Be it in the course of the long-awaited action on heavy duty vehicles, funding of green infrastructure or an ambitious shift from road to rail for long-distance commercial transport, the EU has yet to prove whether we can really proclaim ourselves climate champions. This is important, as action in aviation and shipping must be international to be effective.

The S&D group will be a frontrunner in pushing ambitious and strong targets, a level playing field for different transport modes, a well-functioning and affordable public transport system while using digitalisation and automatization as drivers for the urgently-needed mobility revolution.

 

About the author

Karoline Graswander-Hainz (AT) is Parliament’s S&D group shadow rapporteur on a European strategy for low-emission mobility

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