At the time of preparing this review of Transport & Environment’s work in 2014, we are getting ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Perhaps it’s a little too early to crack open the champagne. Therefore I will try to connect last year’s events to a longer historical timeline. Like everything else in life, there were Groundhog Day moments, but also instances of real progress.
Let’s start with the most pertinent question: have we been successful in saving the world and cleaning up transport? The honest answer is no, we have not. Fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions are up 25% since 1990, and we have a hell of a lot of trucks, planes and automobiles that are not much better, or better used, than 25 years ago.
But that does not mean we should be gloomy about what T&E has done and achieved. Many of the views we had developed 20 years ago were not conventional at the time, let alone put into action, but have now become quite mainstream. In turn, this ‘consistent persistence’, amplified by excellent media work and coordination with members, has made T&E almost a household name, in Brussels circles at least.
Let’s start with a very early T&E paper, from 1992, entitled ‘Making fuel go further’, which made the case for binding fuel efficiency standards for cars. Some 17 years later, Europe finally got them, doing the right thing after having tried everything else, including an official voluntary agreement. We spent much of 2014 trying to ensure that those standards, and those relating to air pollution, not only be met in the laboratory, but also on the road. We have been highlighting this testing issue since as early as 1995. In 2014 we made progress; the next annual report will tell you exactly how much.
Then the issue of biofuels where, in 2014, Europe made further steps to correct its mistakes. More precisely, it kept debating how to reverse the wrongheaded idea to source almost 10% of transport fuel from first-generation biofuels. Twenty years ago we already issued a report that said using bioenergy in transport is an inefficient use of resources. And over the past six years we have very much turned up the volume of that message, with considerable success. But some lessons are apparently harder learned than others.
We seem to have a knack for taking on difficult fights; look at pricing carbon emitted by aviation. We started this fight in 1995 and 2014 saw the latest twist with Europe cutting back on the amount of flights it includes in its emissions trading system. But it’s still there, and we will do everything to ensure it stays that way, is strengthened, and complemented with other measures.
2014 was an important year for shipping too, with Europe agreeing a law on ‘monitoring, reporting and verification’. In plain English: rules that require transparency on ships’ efficiency so we know better which shipyards and shipowners perform best. Evolution not revolution, to be sure, although the fierce and negative industry lobby suggests otherwise.
Talking of negative industry lobbying, the resistance of the truck industry to voluntary rules allowing them to make their cabins longer, safer and more streamlined remains difficult to understand. We started this fight in 2011 and thought it would be such an obvious win/win for everyone that it would be plain sailing. We were wrong. But the better trucks will come.
Despite all this, in a way 2014 was a transition year towards a new five-year policymaking cycle, with a focus on 2030, not 2020. T&E will be 40 by then; I really hope, and in a way I expect, transport will be cleaner, smarter and shared, and more electric – be it bikes, rail or cars. We will be there to make it happen. It has to, it will, and we can.João Vieira, President