10 things that went well for sustainable transport in 2013

December 3, 2013

Yes, this editorial has an unlikely title. If you have been following us, or the issues we work on, a little bit, the overwhelming impression is that things have been scaled back (emissions-trading aviation), postponed (the Fuel Quality Directive, possibly NOx from ship engines, truck CO2 emissions) and watered down (CO2 from cars, biofuels).

All that is true. But in order to enter the Christmas period with a peaceful mind, I thought it would be a good idea to look for silver linings. Here they come. In random order. Have no doubts, it was hard work!
We saw closure on a few big fights, notably CO2 and noise from vehicles. Yes, the results were underwhelming, but at least we can start talking about the future instead, such as truck CO2 emissions and 2025 standards for cars.
Second is the EU’s transport spending. Over the 2014-2020 period, more money from the big pots – the cohesion funds and the ‘Connecting Europe Facility’ – will probably go towards green and more innovative projects than in the 2007-2013 period. Not that that was difficult – particularly since cohesion funds had become almost synonymous with spending on untolled motorways. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so a final verdict can only come in… 2021.
On biofuels, clearly we are not winning all battles. But slowly the debate is moving in our direction; it looks like Europe won’t set a new big quantity target for today’s bad biofuels in its post-2020 strategy. 
On aviation, ETS developments have overshadowed a good thing: that the Commission is finally getting more serious on illegal state aid to regional airports. These have been bending over backwards to accommodate the Ryanairs of this world with close-to-zero airport charges, paid by taxpayers instead of people who actually use the airport. All this fuels the €10-a-ticket air travel frenzy. At a time when tax money cannot pay for teachers’ and nurses’ wages and pensions, this is not merely irrational, it is unethical and needs to stop. 
2013 also saw the beginning of the end of the era of Europe’s silly and dangerous box-shaped trucks, with a formal proposal that truck cabins should become a bit longer and a lot rounder and safer. There is a lot of work still to do, but the beginning is there. 
Prospects for sustainable e-mobility got a little better, and for petrol stations a little worse, with a proposal from the Commission for more electric charging stations. It was not the best thought-through of proposals, but we are trying to save the most useful elements.
In the background, some more technical but crucial projects have been grinding forward. A new emissions test for cars is slowly emerging. It will close a few of the biggest loopholes found in the current one, not least through the hard work of our technical consultant. Also, it seems there has been real progress on the development of a fuel economy test for trucks.
For more good news we need to go outside the realm of politics.
The idea that western societies are reaching ‘peak car’ – saturation of car travel – is becoming mainstream in academic circles. The challenge is now to translate that recognition into less cash for new road capacity and more for traffic management, maintenance, green projects, and non-transport spending. Transport ministries must reinvent their raison d’etre but need a little ‘help’ in doing so.
Cycling across Europe is growing very fast. In particular, sales of e-bikes and other light electric vehicles are booming in Europe. This will transform urban mobility, making the bike an alternative to the car – and not just for short distances.
Investors in tar sands projects were not happy to see that the crude from these fields continued to trade at more than $30/barrel below North Sea oil – but that’s good news for the climate, of course. We need to keep in that regard, and the Fuel Quality Directive is one key tool.
Clearly 2013 was a year in which it took effort – and sensitive tastebuds – to discern fruity flavours. May 2014 (and 2015, after Commission and Parliament changeover) be real vintage years.

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