Tackling transport emissions at EU level thanks to sustainable urban mobility

By Karima Delli, Green MEP and Chairwoman of the Transport and Tourism Committee, (pictured)
Spring 2020

Karima Delli, Green MEP and Chairwoman of the Transport and Tourism CommitteeClimate emergency
Both Europe and our planet face massive challenges induced by climate change. Complying with the Paris agreement is indeed a matter of top priority, in order to make our planet great again and enable the current and next generations to live with decent conditions.

In this context, the European Parliament voted a political resolution on climate emergency last November, with the support of the Green political families.

We cannot wait for the storm to pass; we must act now. There is no "break" for global warming and pollution, and this is why both political and concrete actions are urgently needed.

As Chairwoman of the 'transport' committee of the European Parliament, my responsibility is to trigger that change of paradigm in the field of transport. Transport indeed accounts for 30% of the CO2 emissions across Europe, and it is the only sector in the European Union whose greenhouse gas emissions have been being increasing since 1990 (+26%). Our duty is then very clear with this regard.

That is what the European citizens have understood. The last European elections have led to historical results for the Green political parties in the EU, and most of the major political families have worked on a climate agenda, although many of those proposals were insufficient.

Green Deal and transport
The European Commission has wanted to send a strong signal for the Planet by announcing a Green Deal. At a time when we need to be ambitious, the end result was clearly disappointing. It is mainly a list of good intentions without concrete actions. Both Mrs. Ursula Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and Mr. Timmermans, the first Vice-President of the institution in charge of the Green Deal, have missed a great opportunity to meet the citizens' expectations.

The Green Deal must deserve its name. To be clear, it should be translated into great political and technical measures, which addresses climate change and social justice

In terms of transport, a vast field of actions is open to reach this aim, and all the transport modes are concerned. When it comes to aviation, a kerosene tax must be set up and air transport must stop being excessively incentivised. For road transport, it is a matter of top priority to review the directive on road infrastructure charges, to comply with the 'polluter pays' and 'user pays' principles. The EU Emission Trading System should be extended to maritime transport. And regarding rail, the night trains should be supported to make credible alternatives to air transport available.

In a nutshell, those measures are some examples of the transport contribution to the climate policy we need.

Urban mobility has a key role
This is however not the end of the story, and the cities are definitely on the fi rst lines when it comes to face the impacts of climate change. Urban transport is responsible for up to 25% of all CO2 emissions and for some 70% of all emissions in urban areas that are responsible for climate change.

With estimates that suggest that by 2050 up to 82% of EU citizens will live in urban areas, the pressure on urban areas will only become higher. The challenges are therefore huge regarding urban mobility.

Concretely, the biggest game changer is for cars. This is the fi rst move. When you have a look at the EU cities, the city centres are becoming more and more carless. It is dirty, it is noisy and it is not effective. According to some reports, between 0-10km, electric biking is the fastest and most reliable mode of transport.

It is therefore of major importance to develop alternatives to private cars. Soft mobility (i.e. bikes, rollers) is one of the solutions in this context, as well as making the streets pedestrians. But we should not forget the citizens with low-mobility capacities or those who live in the suburbs, far away from the economic centres. This is why privileging extended and effi cient public transport systems must be a priority.

When it comes to public transport, the vehicles should also comply with very ambitious energy targets and be completely clean. Last year, after some rounds of negotiations, we have agreed, together with the Council of the European Union, to make the threshold of clean vehicles used by public authorities upper. This is a first step, but it is also up to the cities to take the lead and to impulse a dramatic change by themselves.

Banning fossil fuels and setting up zero-emission areas will make the cities cleaner, which logically induces positive outcomes on health. Air pollution is THE illness of our century. Every year, 800,000 persons prematurely die because of air pollution across Europe, and more than 8 million across the World. Change of paradigm will then benefit to everyone.

Last but not least, the experiences on gratuity of public transport have resulted in successes, such as in Dunkerque (North of France) and other French cities. This initiative should therefore be replicated in the European Union. It benefits to the lower social classes, since they do not pay for this service neither for the car. The rate occupancy of transport significantly grows up (up to 125%), as well as the traffic jam decreases. I would like gratuity to be applicable in hundreds of European cities.

The Green Wave and urban mobility
The Green wave in Europe has been a political reality over the past year and a half. Important successes have indeed been recorded for our political families, partly in regional/local areas.

The last Belgian local elections have shown a strong interest in climate policy and several Green mayors have been elected. On the French part, the local elections that will take place in some weeks are a massive opportunity for the Green party.

While Green mayors will surely be elected, we shouldn’t miss this occasion. Let's convert the try and let's show everyone we are the most successful decision-makers for climate policy!

In this context, many of local political decision-makers can be inspired by good practices. For instance, in Bremen (Germany), governed both by the Green and the Socialist party since 2007, 25% of the roads are "equipped" with biking lines, as well as the bikes take priority in some boulevards.

In Ixelles (Belgium), the new Green majority has decided to set up hundreds of bike parking infrastructures next to the road intersections, to foster cycling and to make sure the cars cannot park in this specifi c location, to make the pedestrian experience safer.

As presented, urban mobility can and must contribute to climate policies and to make the transport emissions lower. And I am ready to help the local authorities that are keen on making this change a reality.