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  • Signing off: After 13 years at T&E, have we made a difference?

    It is with a heavy heart that I write this last editorial for the T&E Bulletin, having led this wonderful organisation since 2004. The obvious question to ask now is ‘Have we made a difference?’

    At first sight, there is ample reason to doubt. Over those 13 years, transport became, without competition, Europe’s biggest climate problem, increasing its share in overall CO2 emissions in the EU from 29 to 31%. A large part of the explanation is that the energy efficiency of new trucks and ships did not improve at all, and that of new aircraft and cars only marginally. Taxation of fuel declined, and over the past couple of years, diesel cars and trucks have become Europe’s biggest users of palm oil. Fleets of cars, trucks, ships and aircraft continued to grow, and the share of rail transport stalled. Climate policy for aviation and shipping is still timid at best, non-existent at worst. And of course, the regulations we did help to adopt were often cheated (which was made official through the Dieselgate scandal) or used as an an illegal cash cow (which was made official through the €3 billion cartel fine for Europe’s truckmakers).

    Still I don’t think we need to be ashamed of our impact. It is fair to say we played a key role in the most important green rules for the automotive industry. It is also fair to say that all the pressure accumulated over the past decade is now (unfortunately via Dieselgate) culminating into dozens of billions of car industry investment being channeled away from diesel engines and into electrification. For the first time since I started to deal with sustainable transport (in 1993!) there is a credible path for zero-carbon surface passenger transport, and it feels a bit like a reward. Speeding up this transition is ‘all’ that is needed now; the inverted commas are there for a reason!

    Not only the car industry will see big change; the same is true for the truck industry which is waking up from a long cosy slumber to make its vehicles a lot more fuel efficient and its cabins much safer. In addition, almost all of Central Europe is now covered with a kilometre charge for trucks, a distant prospect in 2004. Political support for the idea that biofuels, or indeed the emissions trading system, will solve transport’s problems is at its lowest since I started, and that’s a good thing; in politics, many bad solutions compete with the good ones for attention and resources.

    Aviation and shipping remain tough nuts to crack. The former primarily because of lack of political interest, the latter because of too many governments being too cosy with industry, and both because many people feel that the UN bodies ICAO and IMO, not regional ones like the EU, should take the lead. We have seen what thatleadsto. The victories, such as the recent huge one on cleaner ship fuels worldwide, therefore taste extra-sweet. Ships and planes deserve much more attention from the environmental community than they are getting at the moment because they are the Achilles’ heel of sustainable transport.

    Call me naive but my belief in the ability of Europe to be a force for good still stands. Any casual reader of our materials will have figured out that the European institutions are far from perfect, but ranked in terms of resistance to corruption and nepotism, and in terms of ability and yes, even transparency, they are up there with the best, not the worst. The current trust crisis can only be resolved at the root.

    My belief in the importance of policy and politics in effecting change has only grown. Without the stubborn decades-long German attachment to its Energiewende, solar and wind power would still be seen as luxuries for the West instead of the hope for the future in countries like India and China.

    What has grown too is my conviction that the fuel-burning industrial complex needs to be challenged and shaken up; every single success we have had was the result of a tough fight with these interests that we did not shy away from – always right out in the open, with carefully prepared evidence.

    What I will miss most is the astounding team at Square de Meeûs with so many cool and smart people I have had the privilege to work with, who put all their brains, hearts and souls into the cause. They deserve all the credit, and it’s a great feeling to leave in the knowledge that they will have no problem coping without me. Our members and board have been tremendously supportive, achieving a fantastic multiplier effect across many campaigns and enabling the team to shine.

    For myself I will continue to be around, working on sustainable – more specifically, sun-powered – transport in Europe, because as I said, ‘all’ we need to do is accelerate the transition towards it. One thing is for sure – there will be few better allies than T&E.

    After almost 13 years as head of T&E, Jos Dings will leave the organisation on 20 January. He will be joining Tesla on 1 February. The board and staff wish Jos the best in his new endeavours.

    T&E is currently recruiting a new Executive Director, who will be announced as soon as s/he is appointed.