EU unveils climate strategy for fossil fuel-free transport

Europe’s climate strategy should include ending carbon emissions from transport by 2050, the European Commission has said. In a draft long-term plan published last month, the Commission outlined eight emissions reduction scenarios for Europe but came out in favour of reaching net emissions. It came as European governments signed off on a global agreement on the rules needed to avoid 1.5 warming in 2050 and catastrophic climate change.

T&E welcomed the EU plan to move away from oil which it said would be the option closest to achieving the goals of the Paris agreement. However, the ambition will be only achievable with the support of EU member states.

For the transport sector the strategy means that combustion engine cars and trucks must be phased out in the 2030s and the use of fossil fuels cut to zero. Transport is Europe’s largest climate problem with emissions from the sector up 28% since 1990.

T&E’s executive director, William Todts, said: ‘Net zero emissions by 2050 means the era of combustion engine cars and trucks must come to an end. This plan will have huge benefits in terms of clean air, quality of life and lower fuel bills. As the world’s biggest fossil fuel importer, the EU also has a huge economic interest in a strategy that is essentially about exiting oil. But if we want to get to zero in 2050 we need to act now.’

Running all European transport, from cars to airplanes, on zero-emission energy will involve a combination of batteries and hydrogen for cars, trucks and ships and synthetic fuels for planes, according to a new analysis by T&E.

In its ‘roadmap’ to decarbonising European transport by 2050, T&E recommends using the most efficient pathways – direct charging – where possible. Hydrogen and synthetic electrofuels, which have much more lower efficiency, would optimally be used only where no other alternatives exist.

The last internal combustion engine car needs to be sold in Europe during the early 2030s and by 2035, T&E also said. The EU can achieve a zero-emissions fleet by switching to battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars, though the latter option will require far greater amounts of additional zero emission electricity, T&E’s strategy for decarbonising cars found.

Higher fuel taxes and road charges, coupled with car-sharing and shifting motorists to other forms of transport, would also need to be deployed to reduce the number of cars, tackle congestion and make cities more liveable, T&E said. The heavy lifting in terms of emissions reductions requires a shift to zero-emission vehicles by 2035 at the very latest. Any remaining combustion engine cars still on the road in 2050 will need to be banned.

However, there are fears that the Commission’s climate strategy relies on unsustainable quantities of biomass, much of which EU countries will end up importing from outside Europe.