Decarbonising the transport sector: a journey worth taking


Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Kris Peeters
Kris Peeters

Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, former deputy prime minister of Belgium and former minister-president of the Flemish government

Since the creation of the single market in 1993, transport has been central to one of the European Union’s main goals: the free movement of goods, people and services throughout the continent. Investments in mobility on the national, regional and international levels have enabled a more connected Europe. Continued improvement to the connectivity of our communities, regions and industries remains as important today as ever for Europe’s growth and cohesion.

However, the transport sector is also one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and the only economic sector in Europe whose emissions are still rising. Despite steady growth in the use of electric cars and trains, the climate emergency demands accelerated decarbonisation of transport, with mounting pressures increased by the ongoing energy crisis and rising prices of fuel. The true cost of our reliance on fossil fuels is apparent and sharpens the rationale for switching to cleaner transport. The promotion of intermodal transport can benefit commuters in urban areas, reduce the spiking expenses of fossil fuels and limit vehicles’ emissions. We must view this emergency as a wake-up call and a crucial opportunity to make Europe greener, safer and more competitive. In this context, transport is not only part of the problem, but very much part of the solution.

Investing in the decarbonisation of the transport sector, improving the safety and efficiency of transport, and securing equal access to transport for all will pave the way to sustainable next-generation mobility. This journey is well underway in many parts of Europe, where increased investment in alternative fuel technologies and supporting infrastructure have been made. Still, much more remains to be done.

With the right policies and incentives, Europe’s transport sector can become sustainable in the long term

One pressing investment need is to support innovation to develop and roll out cleaner transport technologies and new business models, such as on-demand mobility services, also known as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). We also need significant investment in smart and resilient transport infrastructure, which involves the secure management of digital data and data availability to improve sharing services, such as car sharing, ride sharing and bike sharing.

Sustainable transport projects already make up the bulk of the European Investment Bank’s lending to the transport sector; for example, last year, nearly half of the €11bn that it lent to the sector was for rail. With its new transport lending policy, however, the EU bank aims to step up its support of the European transport sector’s decarbonisation journey by recognising the need to prioritise investment in public transport, clean vehicles and alternative fuel infrastructure, as well as intelligent transport systems, road safety, infrastructure resilience and the completion of Trans-European Transport networks.

Investing in low-carbon transport technologies and infrastructure is vital to ensuring the competitiveness of our continent. Europe is a world leader in the automobile, rolling stock, maritime vessel and aircraft sectors, each of which employs millions of people. In this context, change is not only possible but a necessity. With the right policies and incentives, Europe’s transport sector can become sustainable in the long term and fall in line with the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package, which aims to reduce the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) and ensure that Europe becomes the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

In addition to reducing energy consumption, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, investment in transport can be a powerful catalyst for change, and the right investments in transport can yield many benefits. Only in this way can we help safeguard the benefits of the single market, strengthen growth and cohesion among countries and regions, and foster a sustainable future.

This article is a contribution from a member or partner organisation of Friends of Europe. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe.

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