June 23. 2024. 1:46

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Germany’s transport targets sacrificed to save faltering coalition

Over the last weeks and months, the German government has been rattled by conflicts.

Be it on internal combustion engines, gas and oil boilers for home heating, or a general speed limit on German highways, all conflicts follow a similar narrative structure.

While the Greens, faced with the worsening reality of the climate crisis, wanted to ban climate-damaging technologies, the liberal FDP party defended people’s freedom to choose on their own.

Pitting two deeply divided ideologies against one another, both sides are deeply convinced that theirs is the high road.

Attacked for lacking a concept on climate protection, three weeks ago, the FDP presented its alternative to bans: strong emissions trading.

Given that the EU’s scheme for buildings and road transport was postponed to 2027, they proposed introducing a national one as of 2024, letting carbon prices float freely instead of fixing them at the current price of €30 per tonne of CO2.

In practice, this would increase the prices of petrol and diesel, as well as heating gas and oil, cushioned by a per-capita repayment of all revenues.

This would favour those with a low carbon footprint but would see people with old heating systems, big houses and long commutes (in other words: people in the countryside) worse off.

This, FDP politicians and some economists are convinced, is much more acceptable for consumers than forcing those who have to replace their heating systems or want to buy a new car to choose a greener alternative. (It’s more efficient, you know).

But when the German government met for a 30-hour-long work meeting – relationship counselling, in reality – last week, all previous liberal ambition to increase petrol prices was forgotten.

The FDP returned to zero (ideas on how to reduce emissions), instead fighting for giving up the climate targets for the transport sector altogether. And succeeded.

Instead of measuring emissions reductions in every sector individually, Germany will from now on only look at general trends, watering down its national climate law.

The Greens seem surprisingly fine with that. At least they got a new CO2 surcharge on tolls for trucks – and a scapegoat to blame.

“More is not possible – in this coalition,” climate minister Robert Habeck (Greens) said in one of the Instagram videos he likes to shoot when he wants to bring his message across but doesn’t feel like answering nasty questions by journalists.

Did an “agree to disagree” type of deal save the German governing coalition after all?

Don’t be so sure. Because far away from any kind of spotlight or media attention, three harmless-sounding letters have been adopted in Brussels last week: ESR.

The Effort Sharing Regulation, in full, defines national emissions targets for everything not covered by the EU’s traditional Emissions Trading System: Heating, agriculture, small industry, waste, and – wait for it – road transport.

This goes for every EU country, by the way, but for a rich economic powerhouse like Germany, it is particularly strict.

Germany will have to reduce emissions in non-ETS sectors by 50% compared to 2005 levels, meaning that road transport will inevitably have to make some contributions.

Options to dilute the targets exist – buying allowances from other countries or the future – but they are limited. Even the FDP knows that.

So, if German politicians aren’t indifferent to everything, a heavy price increase for petrol, diesel and heating fuels could be imminent in the end. Freezing seniors and angry commuters are just the most efficient way to reach climate targets.

Good luck fighting off the German version of the gilet jaunes, which is already in the making with leftists and right-wing politicians jointly falling in love with war criminal Putin’s gas and oil.

But don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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The aviation industry’s annual EU wish list

The great and good of the European aviation industry gathered in Brussels last Wednesday (29 March) to attend the A4E summit, an annual chance for airline chiefs to set out their policy desires for the next year (and to pat themselves on the back, just a little bit).

EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean made a fleeting appearance, unenthusiastically going through some pre-prepared remarks before leaving the venue.

Asked about his thoughts on the Commissioner’s speech, Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary admitted that he had barely listened, before launching into a rant on the Commission’s ineffectiveness (Vălean was not in the room at the time).

Stinging criticism, perhaps, but delivered with the type of bombastic showmanship that lessens some of the impact.

Filip Cornelis, the head of aviation with the EU’s transport ministry, took the Commission-aimed jabs from industry in stride, joking that his job was to oversee “all the things you’ve said we’re not working on”.

So, what was on the aviation CEOs’ wish list for 2023 and beyond?

More support to boost the supply of sustainable aviation fuel (and lower the price), an end to forced rerouting over the skies of striking countries, and the finalisation of Single European Sky 2, under which routes would be made more direct and the number of nationally-controlled air traffic control centres reduced.

Another major topic of discussion was whether the travel chaos seen last summer will be repeated.

The answer, it seems, is both yes and no: while the staffing shortage that caused many of the issues in 2022 has been much improved, growing demand coupled with less sky to fly in (thanks to Russia’s airspace ban) could cause some delays.

Notably absent from the conversation, refreshingly, was the delays wrought by COVID-19. While the aviation industry still faces a host of issues, it is some comfort that “deadly global pandemic” is no longer at the top of the list.

Paris bids adieu to rental e-scooters

Among the hot-button issues facing urban mobility, e-scooters have emerged as one of the most contentious.

Are they part of the solution to sustainable transport? Or are they a dangerous nuisance that should be removed from the streets?

According to Parisians, at least those willing to vote on the matter, it’s the latter.

In a referendum held on Sunday (2 April), Parisians emphatically voted to end the provision of rental e-scooters, such as those provided by companies including Lime, Dott and Tier, which can be unlocked and ridden using phone apps (privately owned scooters were not on the ballot).

Some 90% of voters backed the ban. However, this figure is somewhat misleading, as only 8% of those eligible to vote (some 103,000 people) bothered to cast a ballot.

While the vote is not legally binding, the local government, headed by socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, has vowed to respect the outcome.

Hidalgo, famed for her attempt to turn the French capital into a cyclist’s paradise, came out against the rental e-scooters, branding them dangerous and often poorly piloted.

Parisians also apparently tired of the space taken up by the vehicles, which were often parked haphazardly, blocking pathways.

Of course, if safety is the main concern, cars have a much greater capacity to kill and injure. But don’t expect that referendum anytime soon.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Parisians vote to ban e-scooter from French capital

An overwhelming majority of Parisians voted to ban electric scooters from the streets of the French capital on Sunday (2 April), in a non-binding referendum that city authorities have said they would follow.

Polish PM will ‘do anything’ to stop EU combustion engine ban

Poland remains the only EU country to openly oppose the ban on the sale of new cars with petrol or diesel engines from 2035, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki saying he will “do anything” for it not to come into force.

EU renewable energy deal backs biofuels to cut transport emissions

The amount of biofuels in Europe’s transport sector is expected to increase after the European Parliament and EU countries agreed in the early hours of Thursday (30 March) on new rules to spur the use of renewable energy across the bloc.

EU strikes deal on renewable energy law, agrees 42.5% target by 2030

Agreement on the EU’s renewable energy directive brings to a close an 18-month process to upgrade the bloc’s climate policies and achieve a 55% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

With strict targets looming, European aviation races to make green fuel

Energy giant Repsol has bought into Europe’s drive for green jet fuel, but believes the €200 million plant it is building in southeast Spain faces a bumpier ride than if it was on the other side of the Atlantic.

Iveco CEO says Euro 7 vehicle emissions regulation is ‘plain stupid’

The CEO of Italian truck and bus maker Iveco has condemned as “plain stupid” the Euro 7 standards which tighten vehicle emission limits for pollutants including nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide in the European Union from 2025.

Green procurement: The key to decarbonise construction and road transport

Current public procurement practices will not put the EU on track to meet its climate goals, even though public spending is widely recognised as a key lever to decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors like road transport and construction, writes Evelin Piirsalu of the Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre.