In the last ten years, Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen significantly in all sectors of the economy, with the sole exception of transport – in which they have increased by 20%. Based on these trends, transport has become the first sector for greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, even exceeding the electricity sector.
Under the Paris Agreement, Europe has committed itself to drastically reducing its emissions, in line with the goal of achieving total decarbonisation of the system by 2050. To meet these commitments, Europe will have to find a way to clean up the transport sector with new and more incisive energy and environmental policies. This action should focus on the road transport segment – this being responsible for 70% of overall transport emissions.
Decarbonising road transport – or mobility – is not a priority just to combat climate change, but also to solve a more tangible issue: that of air pollution in our cities. This challenge is fundamental for the health of European citizens, considering that this form of pollution continues to cause over 400 thousand premature deaths a year on the continent.
Until now, both national and European policies have failed to give concrete answers to the challenge of decarbonising road transport. Decarbonising the sector is very complex – both on a technological and a social level. From a technological point of view, it is enough to think that, despite the progress made in the field, electric cars now account for only 0.2% of the total fleet of vehicles in Europe. From a social point of view, the difficulties in the promotion of policies to reduce the demand for transport must be considered, which inevitably have to cope with people’s daily habits.
Despite these difficulties, Europe has the potential to encourage both technological innovation in the sector and the reduction in transport demand. However, to do this, Europe must equip itself with new policies, framed in a new post-2020 strategy for decarbonising mobility. This strategy can be based on four fundamental pillars.
Firstly, the European Union could encourage member countries and European cities to adopt plans to ban the sale and / or circulation of diesel or petrol cars by 2030 or 2040.
In 2017, France and the United Kingdom have adopted plans to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars from 2040, and there is no reason why other European countries can not commit themselves to similar measures. These plans can represent a formidable sign of change towards the European automotive industry, encouraging it to innovate and become a leader in the global clean mobility sector. For their part, cities can also play an important role. For example, Paris, Copenhagen, Madrid and Athens have already adopted plans to ban the circulation of diesel and petrol cars from 2030 or 2040.
Secondly, the European Union could encourage the adoption of these plans by creating a European Clean Mobility Fund, designed to provide financial support to countries and cities committed to phasing out diesel and petrol vehicles. This fund should, for example, allow cities to obtain priority European funding for measures such as the development of charging networks for electric vehicles, the purchase of electric buses, or the development of car-sharing solutions and car-pooling to allow a reduction in the number of cars in circulation.
Thirdly, the European Union should make a continental reflection on the future of transport taxation. To promote the spread of clean vehicles, taxation could, for example, as already happens in some countries, be differentiated on the basis of the different polluting emissions of the vehicles themselves.
Finally, the EU could improve its research and development funds, trying to use them in a more focused and meaningful way. In concrete terms, the EU could focus resources on transport innovation on some particular solutions, such as solid-state batteries, not yet technologically mature.
By adopting a strategy of this kind, the EU could not only achieve its decarbonisation goals, but also improve the lives of its citizens by cleaning the air they breathe every day and stimulate the change necessary to ensure the future competitiveness of a key sector. for the European economy like that of the car.