EU presents new strategy to transform transport sector

On 9 December 2020, the European Commission presented its new mobility strategy, charting a course for shipping and the rest of the EU transport sector out of the COVID-19 crisis.

As explained, the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy lays the foundation for how the EU transport system can achieve its green and digital transformation and become more resilient to future crises. 

As outlined in the European Green Deal, the result will be a 90% cut in emissions by 2050, delivered by a ‘smart, competitive, safe, accessible and affordable transport system’.

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 “To reach our climate targets, emissions from the transport sector must get on a clear downward trend. Today’s strategy will shift the way people and goods move across Europe and make it easy to combine different modes of transport in a single journey,” Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, commented.

We’ve set ambitious targets for the entire transport system to ensure a sustainable, smart, and resilient return from the COVID-19 crisis.”

“Digital technologies have the potential to revolutionise the way we move, making our mobility smarter, more efficient, and also greener. We need to provide businesses a stable framework for the green investments they will need to make over the coming decades,” Adina Vălean, Commissioner for Transport, said.  

Through the implementation of this strategy, we will create a more efficient and resilient transport system, which is on a firm pathway to reduce emissions in line with our European Green Deal goals.”

European vision for the maritime sector

Photo: Kees Torn/Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Zero-emission ocean-going vessels will become market-ready by 2030. This is one of several concrete milestones for a smart and sustainable future of the European transport system.

To achieve this, the EU said it needs to boost the uptake of renewable and low-carbon fuels for waterborne transports without further delay. It also needs to support research and innovation (R&I) on competitive, sustainable and circular products and services, ensure that the right fuels are supplied by the industry, put in place the necessary infrastructure, and incentivise demand by end-users.

Waterborne transport has greater decarbonisation challenges in the next decades, due to current lack of market ready zero-emission technologies, long development and life cycles of vessels, the required significant investments in refuelling equipment and infrastructure, and international competition in the sector.

EU international emissions from navigation and aviation have grown by more than 50% since 1990. Action in these sectors is urgently needed, including as they recover from the current crisis. These modes must have priority access to additional renewable and low-carbon liquid and gaseous fuels, since there is a lack of suitable alternative powertrains in the short term.

The FuelEU Maritime initiative is expected to boost the production and uptake of sustainable maritime fuels and address this issue. Furthermore, the commission will consider establishing a Renewable and Low-Carbon Fuels Value Chain Alliance, within which public authorities, industry and civil society, will cooperate to boost the supply and deployment of the most promising fuels, complementing action under the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance and building on the success of the European Battery Alliance.

In order to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions of vessels, ambitious standards for their design and operation must be promoted. The EU must continue working closely with all international organisations, such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), on concrete measures aimed at reaching science-based global emission reduction goals consistent with the Paris Agreement. Significant efforts are also needed to develop disruptive technologies to bring zero-emission vessels to the market, the new strategy says.

Ports are key for the international connectivity, for the European economy, and for their regions. In their transition to zero-emission nodes, the best practices followed by the most sustainable ports must become the new normal and enable more sustainable forms of connectivity, according to the new strategy.

Ports should become multimodal mobility and transport hubs, linking all the relevant modes. This will improve air quality locally thereby contributing to improved health of nearby residents. Inland and sea ports have a great potential to become new clean energy hubs for integrated electricity systems, hydrogen and other low-carbon fuels, and testbeds for waste reuse and the circular economy.

The commission will propose measures to make ports clean, by incentivising the deployment of renewable and low-carbon fuels and feeding stationed vessels with renewable power instead of fossil energy, incentivising the development and use of new, cleaner and quieter vessels, greening port services and operations, optimisation of port calls, and through a wider use of smart traffic management.

Moreover, public and private investment in local renewable energy production, in more sustainable multimodal access and in fleet renewals in waterborne transport must increase, the EC said. Such investments are said to be key to reinforcing the EU single market.

In synergy with the deployment of alternative marine fuels, efforts under the zero pollution ambition should be made to drastically reduce the broader environmental footprint from the sector. Delivering on the establishment of wide-ranging Emission Control Areas (ECAs) in all EU waters ultimately aiming at zero pollution to air and water from shipping for the benefits of sea basins, coastal areas and ports should be a priority, the new strategy outlines.

In particular, the commission has spearheaded efforts for covering the Mediterranean Sea and it aims to start similar work for the Black Sea. Furthermore, the EU legislation on ship recycling will be reviewed, in order to determine possible measures to strengthen that legislation, i.e. to further promote safe and sustainable ship recycling practices.

The European Green Deal also calls for a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road to shift to rail and inland waterways. Short-sea shipping and efficient zero-emission vehicles can also contribute to greening freight transport in Europe. The new strategy envisages that transport by inland waterways and short sea shipping will increase by 25% by 2030 and by 50% by 2050.

By 2030, rail and waterborne-based intermodal transport will be able to compete on equal footing with road-only transport in the EU. Additionally, all external costs of transport within the EU will be covered by the transport users at the latest by 2050.

In an effort to enhance maritime transport safety and security, the commission is also planning to initiate a major review of existing legislation on flag state responsibilities, port state control and accident investigation, together with the continued strengthening of EU rules on recognised organisations.

The overall objective is to enable safe, secure and efficient maritime transport with lower costs for businesses and administrations. Maritime safety and smart and sustainable shipping in EU waters will continue to rely on the contribution of the European Maritime Safety Agency whose mandate should be modernised and possibly extended to additional areas.

T&E: Heavy reliance on biofuels is risky

Transport & Environment (T&E) welcomed the European Commission’s mobility strategy but said the heavy reliance on biofuels instead of electrofuels for ships risks an ecological disaster similar to the bloc’s last biofuels misadventure. 

By 2030 the EC wants ships to start using alternative fuels. However, the bulk of this will come from biofuels and only a little from fuels based on hydrogen, such as ammonia or e-kerosene.

Specifically, the commission’s staff working document says that “liquid biofuels would represent 39-40% of the fuel mix by 2050, while e-liquids would contribution (sic) an additional 19-20%. Low carbon gases (bio-LNG and e-gas) are projected to represent 20 to 22% of the fuel mix and hydrogen another 7-8%.

T&E said the reliance on biofuels is at odds with the commission’s hydrogen strategy as well as its ambition to halt deforestation. A recent study found that Europe can scale up e-fuels production to power all of its ships and planes by 2050.

“It’s great that the EU is getting serious about … shipping’s climate problem, but biofuels are not the solution. Europe’s last biofuels adventure was a fiasco causing deforestation worldwide. We now have a great alternative in renewable hydrogen fuels which aren’t just cleaner, but also represent a big industrial opportunity,”  William Todts, executive director at T&E, pointed out.