We can still change trucks (and the world) for the better

By William Todts, freight and climate director

WHAT WE LEARNED IN 2016: “So what did you learn in 2016? And could you write a blog about it?" asked our communications officer.

Silence. My God, where do I start, I thought. First Brexit, then Trump, and before all that there were people bombed on the metro in my hometown. What a year! But I can't write a doom and gloom Christmas blog.

Then somehow I started thinking about this one thing that had really surprised me. A year ago I was campaigning to get the EU to introduce truck CO2 standards and, frankly, things weren’t looking great. Yes, there had been the Paris agreement, but still the odds were stacked against us. The Commission just didn't want to budge and the truck industry seemed all-powerful.

Now, a year later, the EU has a low-emission mobility strategy that formally states there will be truck CO2 standards. People in the Commission who weren’t allowed to say the word “standards” out loud are busy building baselines and a small army of smart consultants is preparing the ground for the EU’s first-ever truck fuel economy regulation. Exciting stuff.

What happened? First of all, we tailored our campaign very neatly to the political context. Right after Paris and in the run-up to the 2030 effort sharing proposal, we talked about the need to help EU governments meet these targets. We showed how trucks were too big to ignore. We provided hard facts and repeated them again and again to everybody who cared to listen.

Secondly, we got lucky. The US happened to be finalising its own, super ambitious truck fuel economy rule. And the truckmakers were investigated for running the biggest ever cartel in European history. You can’t control that kind of thing, but you can build on it.

Finally, we never gave up. We kept producing materials, kept calling and convincing people, kept building new coalitions, kept pushing and pushing up to a point where I felt we were overdoing it. But we weren’t. The truck CO2 campaign was such a close-run affair and it could have gone wrong until the very end.

And then we won.

For sure, it’s a small and incomplete victory. But the lesson is that we can still change things for the better. Somehow I feel that this also goes for progressive, centrist or just plain sensible politics. It’s hard rowing against a tide of conservatism, self-interest or even outright meanness. It always was. Women, gays and African Americans didn’t just get equal rights because they asked nicely. They fought long and hard, suffered many setbacks, but ultimately they achieved victory. Because if you have facts and arguments and lots of determination on your side, in the end you're going to win.

So let’s go back to our families and friends, lick our wounds and enjoy the good things in life. And then let’s come back and turn the tide.

Because you know what?

Yes we can.