Transport emission problem-solving

The EU must be open to innovation, investment and new ideas in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, argues Henna Virkkunen.
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By Henna Virkkunen

Henna Virkkunen (EPP, FI)

03 Jun 2021

Cutting pollution and emissions from private cars poses a unique challenge for Europe. The EU’s climate goals mean we are looking to achieve our 55 percent emission reduction target rapidly; as early as 2030. However, transport is a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. As such, we find ourselves in a position where we must find and implement innovative ways to reduce our emissions, without hindering the mobility of goods and people.

I do not believe there is a single, one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge. Rather, our goals will be achieved by a combination of different solutions, from biofuels to electric vehicles and digital innovations. It is also vital that we take into account the differing needs and modes of transport of EU Member States, not impose a single, top-down solution. 

“Instead of ‘putting all our eggs in one basket’, we should focus on finding and promoting newer, cost-efficient solutions to cut transport emissions”

Electric vehicles are going to play a role in this transformation, but I also believe that tank-to-wheel thinking, which presents electric vehicles as the only solution, has dominated EU policy for too long. We should acknowledge that while investing in electric vehicles and the infrastructure they require can be a sensible decision in towns and cities, there is still a long way to ensure that electric vehicle production is sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Currently, Europe depends heavily on imports of batteries for electric vehicles. The materials for these are usually mined in areas where sustainability or human rights are a secondary concern. Furthermore, these unsustainable practices are not taken into account when vehicle emissions are being calculated, nor what happens to batteries when they reach the end of their life cycle. While these problems can and will be solved eventually, they raise questions about the viability of current policies.

Instead of ‘putting all our eggs in one basket’, we should focus on finding and promoting newer, cost-efficient solutions to cut transport emissions. Great care must also be taken to ensure that EU policies are technology neutral, that the regulatory mix is coherent and that any revisions to existing legislation do not unnecessarily change current definitions and criteria. Europe already excels in the production of alternative, environmentally friendly fuels.

As it is unrealistic to expect a radical transformation of our car fleets in the near future, sustainable biofuels can, and will, play a crucial role in cutting emissions. The ‘Fit for 55 Package’ includes changes to several policies that regulate biofuels, including the Renewable Energy Directive and Emission Standards for new Cars and Vans. We should seek to ensure that the long-term regulatory framework doesn’t hinder the development of such alternative fuel sources.

At the same time, we should also reconsider our approach to smart solutions that offer mobility as a service. These new solutions can help us to reduce emissions, particularly in urban areas. At the same time, they can offer new opportunities for European businesses as well as helping improve our quality of life. Overall, if we are to cut transport emissions, we need to take a more holistic approach, based on lifecycle analysis. We must remain open to new solutions, guarantee that these are not hindered by unnecessary regulation and ensure that all policies are coherent and encourage innovation and investment. Reducing emissions in the transport sector is vital to achieving our climate goals. Such goals are not a pipe dream; they are achievable as long as we focus on solving existing problems instead of creating new ones.

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