On the road to decarbonising transport

By Miriam Dalli, MEP, S&D Vice-President for the European Green Deal, (pictured)
Autumn 2020

Miriam Dalli, MEP, S&D Vice-President for the European Green DealFor centuries, human beings have sought to improve their lives by investing in machines that do more and produce more in many different areas. This however many times came to the detriment of the envrionment, our planet and our climate.

Post COVID-19 is the right time for governments and industries to take the path towards a new economic model that is rooted in sustainibility and that is resilient, where research is incentivised, technologies are developed and where innovation takes centre stage. All with the ultimate aim of reaching a net-zero economy by 2050.

I acknowledge that addressing climate change is a major challenge but this brings with it opportunities. Opportunities for countries to stay ahead of the curve, remain competitive, attract the right investments and create quality jobs through which consumers can receive the best deals possible.

The outbreak of the COVID pandemic should not derail these plans, on the other hand it should serve as a catalyst for positive change. COVID-19 has clearly shown how much we need to take care of our planet, how an unhealthy environment can prove to have devastating effects and how short-term planning and stop-gap measures do not make bigger problems go away.

Greening our economy must be our priority. Transport has been identified over and over again as the largest source of Europe’s climate problems due to its steady emissions increase.

This is the time for smart mobility with car sharing, charging infrastructures, smart city planning, smart sensing and autonomous vehicles amongst others. Sufficient emission reductions through the deployment of zero and low emission technologies need to happen in the next years if we want to reach our climate targets.

Such a transition requires a coherent policy framework that covers vehicles, infrastructures – including alternative fuels infrastructure – electricity grids, employment and economic incentives.

There will always be some resistance to change, because it is in our nature to feel safer doing what we have always been accustomed to do. But we need to challenge the status quo if we want to see positive change. As the European Parliament’s negotiator on the new EU CO2 emission targets for cars and vans for the post period 2020, I can confirm that the result we achieved followed months of objections and fierce lobbying from industry players. After a series of meetings with stakeholders and after intense negotiations with the European Council, we managed to agree that new cars will have to emit 37.5% less CO2 and new vans will have to emit 31% less CO2 from 2030 onwards. Between 2025 and 2029, both cars and vans will be required to emit 15% less CO2.

Over the next decade, zero and low emission vehicles are expected to reach price parity with Internal Combustion Engine vehicles. Given the terms of the European Green Deal and the Climate Law it is far to say that we have to create the right environment so that zero emission vehicles will be a more popular choice within the next 10 years. The EU needs to invest in different technologies that can help us reduce pollution from transport.

To get there, more work needs to be done. The current rate of Zero emission vehicles adoption is still very slow. Charging infrastructure in many of our Member States is still very scarce. Car manufacturers say that consumer demand is not high. Consumers on the other hand speak about major obstacles they face when trying to buy Zero Emission Vehicles, amongst which are limited options, and waiting times that spread over whole months from the day they order a Zero Emission Vehicle until they actually receive it.

This means that the EU must create a strong home market for these vehicles and invest in the necessary infrastructure to support this market. Price reduction is also heavily reliant on mass manufacturing which in turn requires strict policy measures.

The EU needs to also address the current situation on European roads. As the S&D shadow rapporteur on Real Driving Emissions, I worked hard to ensure a progressive alliance that pushed for measures that can help us stop the exploitation of loopholes that allow vehicles to emit more on our roads than what they actually should.

Successive Euro emission standards have led to very significant drops in emissions of exhaust particles both in terms of mass (PM) and in terms of numbers (PN) and other pollutants such as hydrocarbons (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO). However, NOx emissions from road emissions – and in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions – did not drop to the levels expected when compared to the introduction of Euro standards in 1991. This is due to the fact that emissions during "real-world" driving conditions are often higher than those measured during the type approval test.

An RDE test procedure would better reflect the actual emissions on the road and reduces the discrepancy between emissions measured in real driving to those measured in a laboratory.

I want real change and that change has to be positive. I believe in empowering the European Commission to annually review downwards the Conformity Factors, in order to reflect improvements in the accuracy of portable measuring equipment. This would enable a further gradual reduction of the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) under real driving conditions.

I believe in policy-making that pushes change. We need to decide what world we want to live in and how to get there. If we want to future proof our societies and if we believe in a resilient future for the next generations, then we need policies that can actually deliver change and encourage and stimulate the much needed shift.