Why Green mobility needs the right infrastructure

A comprehensive network of publicly accessible charging points is essential for the successful decarbonisation of the EU’s transport sector, argues Ismail Ertug.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Ismail Ertug

Ismail Ertug (DE, S&D) is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN), where he is rapporteur for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure.

10 Jul 2020

Later this year, the European Union is expected to agree the so-called ‘Climate Law’, which - among other things - will define the Union’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. The European Commission has proposed increasing the target from 50 to 55 percent compared 1990 levels.

Meanwhile, my MEP colleague Jytte Guteland, the Parliament’s rapporteur on the dossier, has presented an even-more ambitious target of 65 percent in her draft report, arguing that the Commission’s numbers were too modest.

Irrespective of what negotiations between Parliament, Commission and Council finally yield, one thing remains clear; the EU will have to raise its efforts dramatically, as its current 2030 target is only 40 percent. This will have far-reaching repercussions for EU climate legislation, particularly the sectors not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme.

“In 2018, I was opinion rapporteur for an initiative report that reiterated Parliament’s view that a comprehensive network of alternative fuels infrastructure is the perquisite for the successful decarbonisation of the EU’s transport sector”

The waste, industry, agriculture and transport sectors will have to step up their efforts over the next decade to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. Particular attention falls on the transport sector, which is responsible for 27 percent of all EU greenhouse gas emissions. Contrary to other sectors, transport has seen a sharp increase in emissions, up 28 percent in 2017 compared to 1990, with the vast majority - 72 percent - attributable to road transport.

At first glance, this seems strange, since the fuel economy of most passenger cars and light and heavy-duty vehicles has improved considerably. Nevertheless, the surge in overall traffic volume and the trend for bigger and heavier cars has cancelled out the increased efficiency.

In order to decarbonise the road transport sector, we will need to follow more than one path; reducing individual traffic is an important step. However, the EU’s main approach is to reduce the CO2 emissions of vehicles through specific emission targets for every manufacturer’s fleet.

Undoubtedly, both battery electric vehicles and fuel cell-powered electric vehicles will provide the backbone of the transformation towards a low- and zero-emission road transport sector. Although chargeable electric vehicles have significantly increased their market share in Europe, many potential customers remain hesitant to switch from internal combustion engines to electric.

The three main obstacles are the comparatively high price, limited range and insufficient charging and refuelling infrastructure. In a poll commissioned by the General German Automobile Club, the majority of respondents said that insufficient charging infrastructure was the main reason why they wouldn’t buy an electric car.

There are only 190,000 publicly accessible charging points throughout the EU. Although there has been a significant increase in recent years, we are still far from the 677,000 publicly accessible charging points the Commission had originally planned for in their initial proposal for the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive published in 2013.

It’s worth remembering that this proposal was - at that time - diluted by Member States. Both the Commission and Parliament supported mandatory goals; however, national governments were successful in weakening the Directive in such a way that they only needed to devise National Action Plans on what they intended to do on the uptake of alternative fuel infrastructure.

“For Europe to meet its climate goals and for the European automotive industry to have certainty, a swift adoption of clear targets is vital”

This was a serious error, and one that has hindered the necessary expansion of the market share of zero- and low-emission vehicles until today. In 2018, I was opinion rapporteur for an initiative report that reiterated Parliament’s view that a comprehensive network of alternative fuels infrastructure is the prerequisite for successfully decarbonising the EU’s transport sector.

This call was heard by the European Commission, which is now planning to increase the Union’s overall number of publicly accessible charging points to one million by 2025. The proposal for the necessary revision of the Directive is expected in the first quarter of 2021.

A recent study conducted by the Brussels-based think tank Transport & Environment suggested that at least 1.3 million charging points are needed by 2025 and around 2.9 million by 2030 if we are to keep pace with the expected increase in zero emission vehicles in Europe

 At the same time, it is also important to consider the need for hydrogen refuelling stations, particularly for shipping and heavy-duty vehicles. Here, it would make sense to use synergy effects and establish mandatory targets, particularly in harbours.

The Commission’s recovery plan and the new multiannual financial framework, which will hopefully be adopted soon, will play a vital role in financing infrastructure. I also sincerely hope that the Commission will stick to its initial plan for producing the proposal early next year, despite the problems caused by COVID-19.

For Europe to meet its climate goals and for the European automotive industry to have certainty, a swift adoption of clear targets is vital.

Read the most recent articles written by Ismail Ertug - Renewable hydrogen is Europe’s best bet for emissions-free mobility