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Decarbonising Europe’s roads is not merely a whimsical thought

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 09:00

2016 is a crucial year for the future of European transport with the European Commission due to publish its communication on decarbonising transport later this summer. Miriam Dalli MEP evaluates the current transport scenario and says decarbonisation of road transport is not an unachievable Utopia, we can make it happen, and we can make it our reality

There are some in Europe who think that the decarbonisation of Europe’s roads is some form of unachievable Utopia – dreamt about by a handful of (overly) idealistic environmental activists. Such an opinion is not just limited in scope but also very dangerous. It is dangerous not simply because it goes counter to inconvenient truths about air quality and vehicle emissions, but perilous as it disregards findings from various EU cities.

A recent study on the air quality of London conducted by R. Howard in collaboration with King’s College London shows that 25% of children and 44% of workers in this major European capital are exposed “to levels of air pollution that exceed legal and healthy limits.” If current policy and decision makers do not care about the present, some thought and consideration must be given to future generations of European citizens as well as of the rest of the planet.

Given the recent failings of Volkswagen to adhere to strict emissions limits for diesel engines I believe that the European Union needs to undertake a detailed review of the current regime that guides and governs the emissions of our cars used on Europe’s roads.

By delivering on a successful reform of the EU vehicle type approval system and on the effective implementation of more stringent limits of pollutant emissions (such as, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter) plus by speeding up the introduction of electric vehicles, the European Union would make a major step towards progressive medium and long-term policies that truly manage to improve air quality in our cities.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and it is high time that European Vehicle Emission Standards get tougher. To bolster this initiative, the level and strictness of enforcement must match tough new emission standards. One initiative could include a moratorium period whereby car owners will be encouraged to exchange their older vehicles for newer, cleaner models. Although similar ‘scrappage schemes’ have been introduced in various member states their uptake have been somewhat slow. An official European scheme could include tax incentives to green car manufacturers, fiscal incentives to public transport authorities that decide to go electric as well as other smaller scale but widespread schemes that would percolate throughout the European society.

Logic dictates that any form of decarbonisation plans must be coupled with increased monitoring of emissions and, just as importantly, a completely new form of testing and test procedures. Should a car manufacturer choose to benefit from any European tax initiatives linked to the research and development of low emission vehicles it must be willing to undertake new test procedures. Volkswagen has taught us that laboratory emission tests can be doctored and are therefore dubious at best. What is required at the moment are ‘real-drive’ emission tests with results being closely scrutinised by independent officials and specialists. Any major failings will mean the loss of any current tax initiatives and of any similar schemes that the errant company would have benefited from.

When planning for future budgets, the European Union must put its money where its mouth is. By dedicating increased funding to research and development in the automotive sector, Europe will be working towards a future with less vehicle emissions whilst establishing itself as a world leader in the field. Europe can also lead by example by ensuring that all its employees and beneficiaries are incentivised to ‘turn electric.’ We must also give serious consideration to the electrification not just of public transport, but also other major polluters such as delivery vehicles and construction machinery.

Europe needs is a strategy for air quality that is further reaching and more ambitious than the one we have today.

Certainly, there are some key actions to take in this sense: test cycles must be improved and real world emissions testing using Portable Emissions Measurement Systems must be introduced without delay, the EU type approval system for new vehicles must be made more consistent and new, Euro 7 standards must be developed in order to achieve further emissions reductions when developing new generations of cars. But decarbonising transport is not only in the heart of Europe’s health and environment policies, it is also a crucial part of our climate change mitigation strategies. The electrification of light vehicles, such as bicycles and motor bikes, cars, vans and buses would significantly help the EU and the member states to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030.

In all, decarbonising Europe’s roads is not merely a whimsical thought but a duty that we have to future generations of Europeans. It is about the air they will breathe and the climate they will be living in. The decision is on us today, and the time for action is now. Decarbonisation of road transport is not an unachievable Utopia, we can make it happen, and we can make it our reality.