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EC launches green transport strategy

The EU’s long-term strategy for reducing the bloc’s reliance on fossil fuels in the transport sector, published today, has already come under fire from environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for its heavy reliance on biofuels.

As the European Green Deal is implemented, with targets of more than 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport, and for the EU to become a climate-neutral economy by 2050, while also working towards a zero-pollution ambition, the strategy to achieve these goals is taking shape.

However, green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), while welcoming the European Commission’s mobility strategy, added that its reliance on biofuels risked “an ecological disaster similar to the bloc’s last biofuels misadventure,” which caused widespread deforestation of critical rain forests.

By 2030 the Commission wants planes and ships to start using alternative fuels. But it says the bulk of this will come from biofuels and only a little from fuels based on hydrogen, such as ammonia or e-kerosene.”

In its response to the EU strategy, T&E said the reliance on biofuels is at odds with the Commission’s hydrogen strategy as well as its ambition to halt deforestation. “A recent study found that Europe can scale up e-fuels production to power all of its planes and ships by 2050.”

William Todts, executive director at T&E, added: “It’s great that the EU is getting serious about aviation and shipping’s climate problem, but biofuels are not the solution. Europe’s last biofuels adventure was a fiasco causing deforestation worldwide. We now have a great alternative in renewable hydrogen fuels which aren’t just cleaner, but also represent a big industrial opportunity.”

Nevertheless, what is clear is that the cost of using transport within the EU is set to rise as the new Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy –putting European transport on track for the future report published today aims to make massive cuts in fossil fuel subsidies and to incentivise green alternatives.

According to the latest report, there are three pillars on which the transport strategy is based, firstly to make all transport modes more sustainable, and then to make sustainable alternatives widely available in a multimodal transport system while simultaneously putting in place the incentives to drive the transition.

It is a substantial and ambitious plan that aims to “shift the existing paradigm of incremental change to fundamental transformation,” said the report.

One of these pillars will see the extension and revision of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), with the maritime sector being included in the ETS for the first time, by January 2022. A position that was debated at length in a virtual conference hosted by Cyprus' Deputy Shipping Ministry on 8 December.

Achieving the aim of at least 55% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2030 and of climate neutrality by 2050 requires “ambitious policies to reduce transport’s reliance on fossil fuels without delay and in synergy with zero pollution efforts.”

Digitalisation is a key element of the modernisation of the EU’s entire transport system alongside automation which it is claimed will make the EU safer, more secure, with a reliable transport system.

A major element of the EC’s strategy as described is to introduce zero-emission vessels by 2030 and zero emission large aircraft by 2035.

The EC acknowledges that aviation and maritime transport have greater decarbonisation challenges in the next decades, due to current lack of market ready zero-emission technologies, long development and life cycles of aircraft and vessels, the required significant investments in refuelling equipment and infrastructure, and international competition in these sectors.”

However, with emissions from these two sectors having increased by 50% since 1990 urgent action is needed.

As a result, the EC is calling for aviation and shipping to have “priority access” to renewable and low carbon fuels, “since there is a lack of suitable alternative powertrains in the short term.”

“Furthermore, the Commission will consider to establish a Renewable and Low-Carbon Fuels Value Chain Alliance, within which public authorities, industry and civil society, will co-operate to boost the supply and deployment of the most promising fuels, complementing action under the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance and building on the success of the European Battery Alliance14,” according to the EC strategy.

Moreover, the strategy aims to see a substantial shift from road to rail, inland waterways and short sea shipping. Currently, road transport carries 75% of inland freight.

As a driver towards a sustainable transport system the EC is proposing substantial policy changes including the Combined Transport Directive to encourage intermodal transport and economic incentives to develop sustainable operations and infrastructure developments.

“The scarcity of transhipment infrastructure, and of inland multimodal terminals, in particular, is pronounced in certain parts of Europe, and should be given the highest priority,” said the report.

A multimodal integrated transport system requires a multimodal exchange of data and smart traffic management systems in all modes of transport.

“Ultimately all transport modes for freight must come together via multimodal terminals and the Commission will take initiatives so that EU funding and other policies, including R&I support, be geared better towards addressing these issues, while fully respecting the Union’s international obligations.”

In addition, the EC has said that the “review of State aid rules for railways, which already provide for a flexible framework to publicly fund multimodality, will further support that objective.”

A similar investment and development plan for inland waterways is expected to, not only preserve the mode’s market share, but also increase it.

Additionally, the Motorways of the Sea initiative has increased the amount of cargo transported through short-sea shipping. “The EU must now also lead by example and make European maritime areas sustainable, smart and resilient.”

Nick Savvides
Managing Editor

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