All sustainable means to cut transport emissions are needed

By Henna Virkkunen, MEP, (pictured)
Winter 2021

Henna VirkkunenMany of the Fit for 55 package proposals will bring substantial direct and indirect consequences for the mobility sector as a whole. In the year 2019 transport sector was responsible for 26% of the total EU greenhouse gas emissions and road transport accounted for 71% of those emissions. Road transport is therefore rightfully at the very core of the European Green Deal.

Sustainable biofuels are one of the solutions already available to tackle road transport emissions. As the renewal of the car fleet takes time, sustainable biofuels compatible with existing fl eet have an important role to play, especially in the short and medium-term. While in many of the Fit for 55 proposals there is a push for direct electrification and hydrogen, the potential of biofuels is also well recognized in many of the proposed texts. In general, the ambitious EU climate targets are good news for the sustainable biofuels industry.

However, the package brings also challenges to the sector. Many have raised concerns about the interlinking and overlapping features of the different proposals. The European Commission impact assessments have not sufficiently taken into consideration all the complex crossover impacts the different proposals may bring. A clear example of such inconsistency is the discrepancy between the increasing demand for biofuels on one hand, and the urge to revise sustainability criteria for biofuels on the other. Here co-legislators have much work to do, to ensure that all different elements of the package support the same technology-neutral approach.

For example, the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive should continue to support the use of all sustainably sources biofuels in road transport. We need to reduce transport emissions quickly and to do this we will need all available means, to deliver emission cuts as soon as possible and as cost-efficiently as possible. We as politicians should focus on setting the emission reduction targets and let the industry fi nd the most efficient ways to reach them.

The challenges increase while the demand for sustainable biofuels expands from road to other transport modes. While we introduce new requirements for sustainable fuels used at EU airports and ports, we must simultaneously make sure that the European aviation and maritime sectors stay competitive. Regulatory certainty is needed to encourage market uptake of both biofuels and synthetic fuels. The upcoming legislation should both encourage the market uptake of existing solutions, as well as remain as future-proof as possible, leaving room for innovation and development.

In the aviation industry, it is essential to fi nd solutions to cut emissions but the transition needs to be gradual. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed airlines in economically diffi cult situation. In addition, costs for airlines will heavily increase as the removal of free allocation of emission allowances, demands on the use of sustainable fuels, and the taxation on fossil kerosene all come into force at the same time. The European aviation industry needs suffi cient time to adapt to the transformation. Overall, it is vital to fi nd a balance between policy support and market-based developments.

The maritime industry has also an important role to play as today's maritime traffic still relies almost entirely on fossil fuels. We need policies supporting the emergence of sustainable maritime industry as a whole. Also here the Renewable Energy Directive should not overly limit the sustainably sourced raw materials available for renewable fuels. Simultaneously we should avoid increasing the regulatory burden that could harm the competitiveness of European shipping companies. In addition, owing to the international nature of the maritime industry, the EU should actively co-operate with IMO and other stakeholders to ensure that any new regulation will not lead to disrupted trade flows.

To transit to a climate-neutral and competitive economy as proposed by the Commission's Green Deal, many industries need encouragement to invest in clean energy and low carbon solutions. Therefore, it is crucial that the Fit for 55 policy decision must be for the long-term, to ensure a predictable investment environment that is required to scale up sustainable fuels production facilities.