• Neither left nor right relish the thought of a reverse ice age

    Editorial by Jos Dings Brussels is gearing up for a new five-year term of the European Parliament and a new Commission. The first lines are becoming clear.

    First and foremost, we’ve had elections to the European Parliament. Turnout was again disappointing, but 162 million Europeans still cast their vote, and the result is roughly 5% lower support for the moderate left and roughly 5% higher support for the (mostly) moderate right.

    Although in a national election such a shift is minor, at European level it can greatly affect the substance of many compromises reached.

    It’s certain the environmental movement will have to redouble its efforts to make its message appeal to politicians from both left and right of the political centre.

    The widely expected re-appointment of the centre-right figure of José-Manuel Barroso as the Commission president only confirms the need to make environmental policy ‘colour blind’. An enormous agenda will await the new Commission and Parliament, also because the last five years were – apart from the huge attention to climate change – far from a success for the environment.

    Mainly because of the almost complete absence of greening of agriculture, trade, fisheries and action on biodiversity, the ‘Green10‘, the Brussels-based environmental organisations of which T&E is a member, rated the overall environmental performance of the Barroso Commission at 4.4 out of 10. In the field of transport, the final verdict was a 6. This is not so much the result of the Commission’s transport department’s work. Transport commissioners Jacques Barrot and later Antonio Tajani had scant regard for environmental issues, the only but important exception being a sensible proposal on truck charging, for the first time allowing the inclusion of some external costs. The mark of 6 was more attributable to the Commission’s environment directorate that fought hard for laws to reduce emissions from cars, trucks, aviation, fuels and tyres.

    But it is also obvious that a lot of work remains to be done. Transport emissions are expected to keep on an upward rather than downward path, while the latest science is telling us that western societies should be virtually completely ‘decarbonised’ by 2050. This makes academic debates on ‘who should do what’ in emissions mitigation – and arguments that the transport sector would have to do less – sound hollow and obsolete.

    Essentially every sector, including transport, should have been almost completely decarbonised by 2050. That means emissions reductions in the range of 5% per year. But if we do not reduce emissions seriously until 2030, the annual cuts after then will have to be in the range of 10%. Clearly, postponement is not an option. Both massive reductions in energy demand, and drastic changes in energy sources and carriers, are needed now and over the next years.

    It’s therefore good that Barroso has suggested that transport will be a central priority in the next Commission’s climate strategy. The Commission should honour this promise, and the new Parliament and particularly the member states should put their feet on the accelerator rather than the brake. Only then could we cherish the hope that the planet might escape a ‘reverse ice age’, something that neither the left nor the right find an attractive prospect.