EU plan to clean up road transport is ambitious, but ships and planes ignored

New CO2 standards for cars, vans and, for the first time in Europe, trucks were announced last month by the European Commission in its long awaited Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility. The EU’s ambition is for greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Europe to be at least 60% lower in 2050 than in 1990. However, the legislative plan contained little on reducing emissions from the aviation and shipping sectors.

The Commission confirmed it is working on post-2020 CO2 reduction targets for cars and vans to help meet the long-term aim of zero emissions from road vehicles. It will assess the setting of an intermediate target before 2030, saying ‘the fleet renewal times would call for action earlier rather than later’. The Commission is also exploring the feasibility of measuring cars’ real-world fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, which is now done for air pollutants (NOx) and would be a key deterrent for carmakers’ cheating.

The Commission also said Europe will finally follow the US, China, Japan and Canada in introducing CO2 and fuel efficiency standards for trucks, the fuel economy of which has stagnated for 20 years. The truck CO2 standards would enter into force ‘well before 2030’. Meanwhile, road charging laws are set to be revised to allow for member states to differentiate charges for trucks based on their CO2 emissions.

T&E welcomed the announcement of post-2020 fuel efficiency/CO2 standards for all road vehicles which will help member states meet their 2030 climate targets. T&E executive director Jos Dings commented: ‘The Commission has distributed the EU emission reduction target for 2030 to member states, and promised European action on transport to give them a helping hand. This is a good plan but whether it works will depend on how effectively the promises are delivered. Cutting transport CO2 emissions will not only tackle climate change but also address energy dependence, cut energy bills and create much-needed new jobs.’

The document also leaves open the possibility of a California-style mandate for manufacturers to supply ultra-low or zero-emission vehicles, which could provide certainty and economies of scale for Europeans to have a wider choice in electric vehicles. Meanwhile, plans to address fragmentation in the electric vehicle market include improved compatibility of payment systems across borders and the provision of real-time information for charging points.

In terms of energy, the Commission said food-based biofuels are to be gradually phased out and replaced by more advanced ones, though the detailed plans will not be known until the announcement of the EU’s post-2020 bioenergy policy – due by the end of the year. T&E welcomed the news but said that the document’s support for natural gas trucks as a pan-European long-term solution is surprising given new evidence highlighting the high cost and low potential.

The Commission also disappointed in its abdication of responsibility for aviation and shipping emissions to UN international organisations ICAO and IMO, which have been criticised for their ineffectiveness in tackling the sectors’ climate impact. T&E also pointed out that the Commission does not propose any major initiative to revitalise passenger rail, a key tool in decarbonising and electrifying transport.

Jos Dings added: ‘While the European Commission has seized the initiative to decarbonise vehicles, the opposite is true for planes and ships despite the importance of European action in these sectors. Double hull tankers, lower-sulphur marine fuels, and carbon pricing for aviation are all policies ‘made in Europe’. Emissions from planes and ships must not be allowed to replace those cut from vehicles.’