Transport and climate: We need to act now

Europe must choose an ambitious path to avoid even more disastrous effects on the climate, writes Matthijs van Miltenburg.

Electric cars Photo credit: Holyrood

By Matthijs van Miltenburg

09 Nov 2017

When it comes to decarbonising Europe’s transport, there is one issue on which everyone can agree - we need to move forward.

Transport accounts for almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of air pollution in cities. Europe’s answer to these challenges is an irreversible shift to low-emission mobility in terms of carbon and air pollutants.

By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will need to be at least 60 per cent lower than in 1990 and firmly on a path towards zero.


The challenges are clear. Road transport is responsible for over 70 per cent of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and much of the air pollution.

Moreover, it is the largest source of nitrogen oxide (39 per cent) and important source of particulate matter (13 per cent). On the other hand, wider travel possibilities are becoming available to more citizens. We are no longer in a position to sit back and relax; we have to find real alternatives. Electrification of transport is one of these possibilities.

The Netherlands has committed to an ambitious goal: by 2030 all new cars must be emission free. Supporting measures are equally important. Fiscal stimuli are being introduced, as well as the construction of sufficient charging stations.

Moreover, low-emission zones are being established in most Dutch cities, in which emission-free cars will benefit from lower parking fees. I clearly regard these policy measures as a best practice for the roll-out of electro-mobility in Europe.

Norway is always regarded as a success story, and rightly so. It has the highest per capita number of all electric cars in the world: more than 100,000 in a country of 5.2 million people.

Last year, electric vehicles constituted nearly 40 per cent of the nation’s newly registered passenger cars.

However, it is all about the source of electricity. In Norway, 98 per cent of electricity comes from hydropower, leading to virtually no carbon footprint. Overall, more than 40 per cent of total electricity worldwide comes from burning coal.

This means that we must not regard electro-mobility in isolation. Challenges of the 21st century require modern solutions. Phasing out petrol cars and natural gas, closing down coal plants by 2030 and introducing a minimum price for CO2; these are measures that I fully support.

In the European Parliament we focus on all transport sectors, rather than road transport alone.  In October 2017, the transport committee adopted an ambitious report on low-emission mobility.

In this report, all modalities are discussed: from cars to aircraft, and from ships to trains. We have also described out-of-the-box solutions, such as more intelligent transport systems, more high-speed trains and more public-private partnerships.

The transport sector must deliver. Petrol and LPG are polluting and exhaustive. There is no magic bullet to combat climate impact in the transport sector.

It is a collective effort from all modalities, keeping in mind their entire life-cycle. Starting with trucks, but steady going towards vans, buses, coaches and passenger cars.

We have to choose an ambitious path to protect Europe and the world from ever-worse impact on climate, health and society. Let’s act now.