17 November 2022 | 4 minutes.

Carbon Neutral Transport

A container ship prepares to depart from the Port of Hamburg.

Photo: Julius Silver, Pexels.

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Belén Gutiérrez Carmona
Correspondent, REVOLVE

Belén Gutiérrez Carmona, Correspondent, REVOLVE

Decarbonization must be coupled with bigger efforts toward collective mobility.

Transport decarbonization urgently needs to be addressed on a global scale. In 2020, the transport sector (including international aviation) accounted for 23.2% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU.

The European Green Deal includes a target to reduce transport-related GHG emissions by 90% by 2050. In order to achieve it, the EU Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy proposes a boost to zero-emission vehicles, vessels, and airplanes, as well as addressing the related infrastructure; adding milestones such as 3 million public charging points to be installed by 2030.

To deliver these big ambitions, it is essential to encourage cross-sector collaboration. Road, rail, maritime, and air transport face common issues while solutions can be found sooner by working together and engaging with their users.

“Making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050 requires not only implementation of technology, but winning hearts and minds of citizens.”

Patrick Child, Deputy Director-General at DG ENV.

The policy framework needs to attract private investment to both the research and implementation phases. As put by Patrick Child, Deputy Director-General at the European Commission Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV) and Cities Mission Manager, “making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 requires not only implementation of technology, but winning hearts and minds of citizens.”

This debate cannot only revolve around technological innovations or economic implications. When we look at the bigger picture, it is about making people’s lives easier by offering them efficient and sustainable mobility options that get them seamless transportation. Decarbonization will lead to promoting biodiversity in cities, decreasing air pollution, and contributing to health and well-being; all of which are benefits that should be considered from the start.

Decreasing road transport emissions

Aviation and maritime transport face huge challenges of transforming the fuel ecosystem, scaling up technologies in the market, and still meeting demands. But the biggest issue for transport system decarbonization remains on the road. It makes up the lion’s share of the overall transport system emissions: in 2020, road transport emitted 77% of all EU transport GHGs, according to the European Environment Agency.

Cars will not disappear and the approach of shifting to cleaner energies such as electricity or hydrogen is not enough anymore, there is no time left. “When we consider the full life cycle, there is no such thing as zero-emissions cars,” argued Pedro Nuno Santos, Portuguese Minister for Infrastructure and Housing, during the Transport and Research Arena (TRA) Conference 2022. There needs to be a shift from linear to circular value chains and collective mobility will be key, both for people and freight transport.

Cars driving through Paris. Photo: Ashley Fontana, Pexels.

“We are committed to a modal shift as the most powerful tool to decarbonization,” concluded the minister. For that, the industry demands both firm political will to close the gap between fossil fuels and alternative fuels, and financial mechanisms.

This requires a major societal and cultural change in users’ behavior, as Francisco Jose Cardoso dos Reis, Chairman of UIC Europe Region and International Affairs Director and Senior Advisor to the Board of Directors at Infraestruturas de Portugal, explained: “We must teach people what are the alternatives to use. We must ask new generations to teach their parents and their grandparents. The mindset of the baby boom generation is to have two cars in the garage and perhaps another one for the weekend. This has to change.”

Nevertheless, the reality is that most transport is expected to continue to be by road in the coming decades and therefore decarbonization efforts should also be focused here. Demand for transport continues to grow and the EU Green Deal is, in the end, a growth strategy. This sector is essential for the EU economy, contributing around 5% to EU GDP and employing more than 10 million people. The growth must be coupled with bigger efforts and incentives to shift from the existing paradigm to multimodality.