The EU has a good record on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in sectors such as power generation – but not in road transport, the only major sector where they have risen continually since 1990. And despite progress on fuel efficiency, Europe still lacks a 2030 policy framework for decarbonising transport.
That means swift action is needed to reduce transport emissions in line with the COP21 Paris Agreement reached last year, panellists told a Friends of Europe Café Crossfire on 21 June. Potential measures range from investing in alternative fuels and new types of cars to making transport systems more intelligent.
The European Commission plans to address transport emissions beyond 2020 in a Communication to be released in July 2016. “We are facing the challenge of reducing emissions in the transport sector – but it is also an opportunity,” said Alexandre Paquot, Head of the Road Transport Unit in the European Commission Directorate General for Climate Action. The communication is likely to stress the opportunities for the EU economy in terms of jobs and growth, he said. It will follow a technology-neutral approach and will foresee measures and standards in three areas: fuel efficiency, alternative fuels and intelligent mobility.
The urgency of cutting carbon dioxide emissions was acknowledged at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, in Paris. Participants agreed to reduce their carbon output as soon as possible with the aim of keeping global warming to “well below” 2°C. But they also said they would try to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, a goal that will require a shift to zero emissions in the next few decades.
“People underestimate what that really means – the difference of that nuance from two degrees,” said Pete Harrison, Programme Director for Transport at the European Climate Foundation. “But that’s what is necessary to avert some of these catastrophic impacts, which we are already starting to witness. To achieve well below two degrees needs a move beyond incrementalism. In the past we were thinking, ‘let’s do the cheap and easy stuff first’. But now you have got to do everything, and you have got to do it fast, all at once.” As transport is now the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, Harrison added, “you have to do it extra fast in transport.”
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