How Horizon Europe can deliver a zero-emission transport sector

The EU has adopted legislation, known as Horizon Europe, to shape EU Research & Innovation (R&I) spending for the 2021-2027 period. With a proposed budget of almost €100 bn, the programme aims to stimulate technological innovation and help the EU decarbonise. In this paper T&E argues that it should be subject to a clear prioritisation of clean transport technologies in order to put the transport sector on a strategic pathway towards net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Horizon Europe’s implementation must require ‘nothing less than zero’. For road transport, only research in zero-emission vehicle technology, e.g. battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles, should be eligible for public funding. For shipping, research priority should be given to battery-electric and green hydrogen/ammonia-based propulsion systems, including fuel cells. For aviation, the focus should lie on the development of breakthrough fuels, such as synthetic electrofuels produced from additional renewable electricity, with zero or near zero GHG emissions.

The successful transition to a zero-emission transport sector will hinge upon a better alignment and greater consistency between EU and Member States’ policies. A more effective investment policy to accelerate production capacities and develop economies of scale is by all means needed. The weaker the overall regulatory policy framework is, the higher the amount of public investment which will be required to steer the sector’s transition.

Transport, the EU’s biggest climate problem, needs a more effective and coherent R&I strategy. A closer coordination within the European Commission between DG RTD and other Directorate-Generals can contribute to align transport research spending with the broader decarbonisation imperative. The Joint Undertakings (particularly Single European Sky (SESAR) and Fuel Cell and Hydrogen (FCH)), currently dominated by industry stakeholders, must involve civil society representatives in their decision-making processes when establishing strategic objectives and undertaking projects.