Both Europe and our planet face massive challenges brought about by climate change. Complying with the Paris Agreement, in order to make our planet great again and enable the current and next generations to live in decent environment, is a top priority. The recent COVID-19 crisis has shown both the fragility of the globalised capitalist model as well as the resilience of European citizens.
We cannot wait for the storm to pass; we must act now. There is no “break” when it comes to global warming and pollution, or for the current social emergency, and this is why both political and concrete actions are urgently needed. As chair of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism committee, it’s my responsibility to trigger that change of paradigm in the transport sector, which accounts for 30 percent of CO2 emissions across Europe, and it is the only sector in the European Union where greenhouse gas emissions are increasing.
Our duty then is very clear. Before the pandemic, the Commission wanted to send a strong signal for the planet by announcing the European Green Deal. At a time when we need to be ambitious, the end result was closer to a list of good intentions rather than an opportunity to present concrete actions. Today, if the relaunch strategy plan has raised awareness on the need for solidarity among Member states, it remains too vague on the sustainable conditionality.
“The European Green New Deal must live up to its name and should be translated into major political and technical measures that address climate change and social justice”
The European Green New Deal must live up to its name and should be translated into major political and technical measures that address climate change and social justice. When it comes to aviation, a kerosene tax must be established and air transport must stop being excessively incentivised. Meanwhile, a review of the directive on road infrastructure charges, to comply with the ‘polluter pays’ and ‘user pays’ principles, should be a top priority.
The EU Emissions Trading System should be extended to maritime transport, and night trains should be supported as credible alternatives to air transport. Cities are definitely on the frontlines when it comes to facing the impacts of climate change. Urban transport is responsible for up to 25 percent of all CO2 emissions. With estimates suggesting that by 2050 up to 82 percent of EU citizens will live in urban areas, placing them increasingly under pressure. Concretely, the biggest game changer is for cars. This is the first move.
When looking at European cities, there is a clear trend of city centres becoming increasingly car-free spaces. Cars are dirty, noisy and inefficient. According to some reports, electric biking is the fastest and most reliable mode of transport for travel under 10km. It is therefore of major importance to develop alternatives to private cars. Soft mobility such as cycling is one of the best solutions in this context, as is pedestrianising streets.
But we should not forget citizens with low-mobility capacities or those who live in suburbs, far from economic centres. This is why giving priority to extended and efficient public transport systems is essential. When it comes to public transport, vehicles should also comply with ambitious energy targets and be completely clean.
Last year, after some rounds of negotiations, we agreed, together with EU Member States, to increase the threshold of clean vehicles used by public authorities. Banning fossil fuels and setting up zero-emission areas will make cities cleaner, which logically induces positive outcomes on health. Air pollution is the illness of our century. Every year, 800,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution across Europe. A change of paradigm will benefit everyone.
Last but not least, the experiences of free public transport have resulted in successes, such as in Dunkirk and other French cities. This initiative should therefore be replicated across the EU. It benefits those on low incomes and rate occupancy grows significantly (up to 125 percent) and helps decrease traffic.
I would like free public transport to be made available in hundreds of European cities. The Green wave in Europe has been a political reality over the past year and a half. Important successes have indeed been recorded for our political families, particularly in regional and local areas. The last French local elections have shown a strong interest in climate policy and several Green mayors have been elected. It is a massive opportunity for the Green party.
“Banning fossil fuels and setting up zero-emission areas will make cities cleaner, which logically induces positive outcomes on health. Air pollution is the illness of our century. Every year, 800,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution across Europe”
While Green mayors are called to the office, we shouldn’t miss this occasion. Let’s convert the try and show everyone we are the most successful decision makers for climate policy. In this context, many of our local political decision makers can be inspired by good practices. For instance, in Bremen, which has been governed both by the Greens and the Socialist party since 2007, 25 percent of the city’s roads are “equipped” with cycle lanes and bikes take priority in some boulevards.
Closer to the European institutions, here in the Ixelles commune of Brussels, the new Green majority has decided to set up hundreds of bike parking areas next to road intersections, to foster cycling and to make sure cars cannot park in these specific locations, making the pedestrian experience safer.
As presented, urban mobility can, and must, contribute to climate policies and to reducing transport emissions. And I am ready to help local authorities that are keen on making this change a reality.