Transport White Paper: efficient, electric, priced, and international

Speech delivered by Jos Dings, T&E director, at the European Parliament Transport Committee’s hearing on the White Paper on Transport on 17 March 2015

Dear Chairman, dear MEPs,

Thank you very much for organising this timely event and allowing us to share our views with you. I represent T&E, the Brussels-based environmental group focusing on transport, with 46 member organisations in 24 countries.

Let me start with some bad news. Despite years of hard work by many people in this institution, and by us, we are still quite far away from solving some of the major challenges this sector faces.

Transport has come to use a third of the Union’s energy, emit a third of the Union’s carbon, and be responsible for half of the EU’s €400 billion annual energy import bill. It is also still kills far too many people – in accidents, or more indirectly, through air and noise pollution.

But there is also some good news. European vehicle and fuel regulations are starting to make our air a bit cleaner and our cars a bit more efficient. ‘Peak car’ has come in Western Europe, which means we need to build far fewer roads. Sales of e-bikes are exploding, as is carsharing.

As a result, transport energy use and CO2 emissions are now going down slowly, around 1% a year, and really not just due to the crisis. But they are still 25% over 1990 levels and if we want to meet the 60% reduction target of the 2011 White Paper we need to cut CO2 and fuel consumption by 3% a year.

What do we think the White Paper review should focus on?

First: we need a 2030 GHG target for transport. The 2050 target of the White Paper is too far away, we need a binding 2030 target for transport. If transport follows a pathway of 3% reductions per year, as it should, we need to cut emissions in 2030 by 30% compared with 1990 levels. That should be the target.

Setting a target is one thing but meeting it is another. So what is needed to meet it?

The Energy Union Communication rightly says: efficiency first. We need very ambitious fuel efficiency standards for all types of vehicles: cars, vans, trucks, aircraft, and ships. And we need them as early as possible because it takes so long before new vehicles have entered the fleet in big numbers.

The same Communication is also right in stressing electrification.

Why? Because oil is dirty, expensive, and imported. Because the same is true for gas. And because on biofuels, we have not yet seen a credible scenario for large-scale sustainable supply; you simply cannot bet on them.

But also because we are witnessing a revolution in green electricity. Solar electricity has become 10 times cheaper in 10 years. This is why in the past 70% of new electricity generation capacity installed in Europe was renewable. And because green electricity is very secure – it the most decentralised and domestic energy imaginable. And because batteries have become four times cheaper in 20 years. Europe needs to come together and decide that sustainable electrification is the way forward for energy – also in transport.

Electrification is about much more than replacing a normal car engine with an electric one and a battery. It also includes rail (the electric transport we already have), ebikes, other small vehicles, and freight. It should include smart interaction with the power sector, and importantly, interoperability of recharging points. It should also seek to accelerate the sharing economy. Electric vehicles are perfect for fleets and shared use because they are quite expensive to buy, but cheap to use. And it should look at interurban and international transport too, and not just cover urban areas.

That’s right; we need a big strategy for this big transition with big opportunities, so that China and the US do not overtake us.

If we want to make this all happen we need to keep working on getting the prices right. Europe tops the world table for labour taxation – and we are surprised about unemployment. But we still underprice dirty transport – and we are surprised about all the pollution. We should end time-based vignettes and replace them with use-based charges. And Europe needs to make it easier and cheaper for member states to introduce user-based charges.

Some specific remarks on aviation – the most oil-intensive and most subsidised sector of all: €40 billion subsidies in fuel tax and VAT exemptions alone, and we are not even counting airport subsidies. The only reason ICAO says it wants to deal with greenhouse gas emissions is because we have included the sector in the ETS. There are many reasons to be skeptical about ICAO’s work, so we need to ramp up pressure over the coming years and not let it go.

I also want to say a few words about the sector’s loud complaints over supposedly unfair competition from Gulf carriers. Forcing more financial transparency onto airlines who want to do business in Europe is fine, of course – but I am really not sure that it will prove that other carriers are that much more heavily subsidised than our own.

A lot of what is happening is typical of Europe’s weakness – member states insisting on negotiating their own traffic rights, allowing themselves to be played off against each other in the process. Some of you might not want to hear this but the solution for this fake sovereignty is a stronger EU – one that makes it very clear when you can compete here and when you cannot. Anyway the €40 billion subsidies I mentioned apply to all airlines flying in, from and to Europe, not just European ones, so abolishing them is a step towards levelling the playing field for all, and levelling the playing field with other modes of transport.

Last but not least is shipping, and I have a simple message. We have made some progress on measuring (and reporting/verification) emissions; that is great. Now we need to get a reduction target for the sector for Paris, and measures to reduce emissions in Europe as a stepping stone for global action. The Commission does have a measure in the drawer – ETS or payment in a fund – and it needs to dust it off.

We need a 2030 greenhouse gas target for transport. We need efficiency standards. Smart electrification across the board. Smart road pricing. A strong bloc acting to price aviation properly. And a target and action on ship emissions.

Thank you very much.