By Mark Watts
The European Green Deal is the most ambitious EU project since the launch of the Single Market back in 1993, the launch of the Euro in 1999, or the accession of countries from Eastern & Central Europe between 2004 and 2013. The sheer scale of ambition is breathtaking. In scope, to become the world’s first carbon neutral continent by 2050. In speed, with a target of at least 55% cuts in carbon emissions by 2030.
But what does it mean for transport?
The implications for transport are profound. The biggest challenge and opportunity since the invention of the internal combustion engine in the 19th Century. Indeed, it faces a greater challenge than any other sector. Transport accounts for a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and they are still growing. Indeed whilst every other industrial sector has achieved reductions in GHG emissions since 1990, on average by 23%, transport GHG emissions have risen by a staggering 19%. One European body recently described transport as ‘not only one of the dirtiest industries on the planet but it is the fastest-growing contributor to carbon emissions.’
So transport must decarbonise by over 50% in a decade become carbon neutral in three. It will require a technological revolution and more than that, a social revolution in the way we trade and travel.
Every mode will be expected to make a full contribution, because if they don’t, the burden will be carried by others, and the costs paid by society as a whole. So we need to speed up the development of technology to eliminate carbon from our road, rail, sea and air transport.
But like all technological revolutions there will be winners and losers. If Europe is to maintain pole position in the fight against climate change, we need to become a leader in the decarbonisation of transport. It will be challenging, but the climate benefits will be profound and economic dividends
will be huge. As Darwin said it is not the fittest that survive change, but those that are most willing to adapt. Those that adapt will thrive. Creating carbon neural technologies for transport will ensure Europe can benefit economically as well as environmentally.
We also need to foster that social revolution, maintaining connectivity whilst reducing the environmental impact of transport, ensuring no one and nowhere is left behind.
To prompt that technological and social revolution it will also require a regulatory revolution, and the European Commission’s recently launched Work Programme gives us a taste of the new and revised regulatory measures that will be introduced,. A new Climate Law which will enshrine the carbon reduction targets into EU law, and an overarching Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility will provide the framework for the modernisation and greening of the transport sector. And a series of new and targeted transport measures will impact every mode (See below). But in addition to these regulatory measures, it intends to mobilise every tool at its disposal, including the EU budget, a new industrial strategy, trade policy, fiscal rules, monetary policy, a just transition fund and taxonomy, because we will need a radical transformation in the way we plan, invest, operate and use transport.
One thing missing it industry buy in. We can’t rise to the challenge and seize the opportunities without full and willing industry participation. Indeed, industry must and can take a lead in the development of sustainable, technically feasible and globally competitive solutions.
The EU must be willing to become more engaged than every before with industry stakeholders, and industry must be more willing to engage with the EU than ever before. This must be a genuine partnership, or the Green Deal simply won’t deliver.
Finally, a word on Brexit. Most of the above will apply to UK irrespective of the outcome of the trade negotiations. Firstly, because if you want to offer goods or services to the EU, and let’s not forget even without the UK it remains the world’s largest market, you will have to comply. Secondly, whatever has been said about regulatory alignment or level playing fields it’s been made pretty clear that the UK won’t undercut the EU on environmental or climate standards.
My advice is for the transport industry not to wait for the EU Green Deal to force change, but to take a lead and drive the change. Those that do will survive and thrive.
EU Green Deal & Associated Measures
(Environment & Transport)
Mark Watts, is Director of LP Brussels, a former two-term Member of the European Parliament, and has been advising organisations and businesses on EU transport policy for over fifteen years. He writes in a personal capacity.