March 4. 2024. 8:09

The Daily

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Too little, too late on combustion engines

Several national politicians and MEPs have jumped on the European Parliament’s vote to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel engine vehicles from 2035 to bash Brussels for what they say is a calamitous overreach.

But behind their bellicose rhetoric is the simple reality that, at this stage, it is almost unthinkable that the deal will be overturned.

Those in the Brussels bubble can forget that the workings of the European Union are a mystery to most. The whole lumbering project is seen as too complex, too technocratic, and too boring for most people to get invested in.

This knowledge gap leaves a fertile space for (in particular) national politicians to blame a range of unpopular policies on the EU.

A skilful politician can play with the narrative that out-of-touch and overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels decided to impose some arbitrary rule on the citizens of [insert country] to please the rulers of [insert rival country – usually Germany or France].

Of course, this overlooks the fact that every member state has the opportunity to scrutinise and give input into each piece of legislation proposed by the European Commission.

While a qualified majority may be used to get through legislation in some instances – in which cases a country could be more justified in claiming a law was “forced” on them – generally, consensus from each country is sought.

It is bad politics to consistently go against the wishes of a particular member state, so the process becomes a give-and-take, in the tradition of democratic compromise.

It is not, as some like to imply, a dictatorship.

So, when Italy’s colourful Transport Minister Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Lega party calls the switch to electric vehicles a “suicide”, it is primarily targeted at a national audience.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani also claimed that Rome would put forward a 90% target in a bid to save the combustion engine – despite the legislative process being at its denouement.

In reality, the Italian government (then led by Mario Draghi) signed off on the Council’s position on the CO2 standards for cars and vans, which included a 100% CO2 reduction by 2035.

In fact, even when the Meloni government was in charge, the Italian government did not oppose the agreement at the Council’s COREPER meeting, which gathers EU ambassadors from each state. This indicates that the deal is essentially accepted.

Of course, new political leaders can object to laws. But the upcoming vote in Council is to rubber stamp an agreement that was already reached with the member states. While it’s not impossible for the deal to be shot down at this stage, it is extremely rare.

Following the vote in the Parliament, MEPs from the centre-right EPP group also issued harsh statements decrying the combustion engine ban.

“Europe is driving its automotive industry towards a dead end. Today’s decision on banning combustion engines will make new cars more expensive, cost thousands of jobs and lead to the decline of a core European industry”, said German lawmaker Jens Gieseke.

However, such condemnation is more for constituents at home, given that the vote passed.

One imagines that when complaints arise from locals about Brussels, canny MEPs can point to their track record of opposing the change and blame the Socialists and Greens for ramming it through.

When it comes to the 2035 phase-out, alea iacta est – the die is cast. The angry rhetoric and gnashing of teeth are now largely an exercise in political point scoring.

The bizarre allegations against 15-minute cities

The relatively benign concept of 15-minute cities – the idea that people should be able to access most essential amenities within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home – has become a source of anger and conspiracy in the United Kingdom.

The thinking behind 15-minute cities is that rather than building housing in areas that require, say, a 45 minute drive to buy groceries, it would be better if denser housing could be built in areas where people’s basic needs are satisfied close by.

This means that instead of being stuck in traffic for half an hour, there would be a local alternative that could be accessed on foot within roughly 15 minutes.

But where some see a rather mundane theory of urban convenience, others see a globalist plot to erode local freedoms.

It is questionable whether it’s worth repeating the outlandish conspiracy theories that have emerged around this unremarkable urban planning concept. Already writing this short article on the topic seems to give it more than it deserves (but, it is in the news, so I’m duty bound…)

The end goal of 15 minute cities, conspiracy theorists warn, is that the government will trap people in their neighbourhoods, preventing them from moving through the city.

Why local governments would bother doing so is unclear (one imagines they have enough issues providing the usual services without throwing a dystopian permitting system into the mix).

This conspiracy is folded into theories about government desires to remove property rights and hamper freedom of movement.

Of course, perhaps the real reason for opposition to 15 minute- cities is that it will potentially require some curtailments to car usage.

Residents and local officials can debate the pros and cons of this. But ascribing the wackiest, darkest motives is a very modern exercise in political absurdity.

For a full rundown of conspiracy theories surrounding 15-minute cities, read the Guardian’s report.

Green shipping fuel law not yet ready to dock

Those hoping for a breakthrough in the discussions on the FuelEU Maritime file will have to wait a little longer.

The regulation, which aims to cut maritime emissions by mandating progressively cleaner fuels for ships, is currently being negotiated by member states and the European Parliament.

The legislation aims to wean the maritime sector off highly polluting heavy oil by stimulating the use of low-carbon fuels. Rather than mandating the type of fuels that must be used in ships, it sets increasingly strict carbon intensity limits that must be respected.

The last round of negotiations took place last Thursday (16 February). Although progress was made, no deal was reached.

According to rapporteur Jörgen Warborn, a Swedish MEP with the centre-right EPP group, outstanding issues remain on the greenhouse gas intensity limits of fuels and the inclusion of a sub-mandate for the use of hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels.

“My message to the member states is that everything we do has to serve decarbonisation and preserve the competitiveness of the shipping sector,” said Warborn. “I am concerned with the fact that the Council’s mandate seems very narrow, which risks slowing us down”.

There were some preliminary agreements struck, however, with consensus reached on fuel certification and achieving zero emissions at berth.

Negotiators will now discuss with their respective institutions how to move the file forward before reconvening for the next round of talks.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Business as usual ‘dangerous’ for aviation, warns Rome airport chief

A realistic pathway to cut aviation emissions is the best way the sector can prevent lawmakers from restricting flying on environmental grounds, the head of Rome’s Fiumicino and Ciampino airports has said.

Italy brands EU plan to outlaw fossil fuel cars a ‘suicide’

Italy stepped up its opposition on Thursday (16 February) to European plans to outlaw the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 12 years, with the transport minister calling a rapid switch to electric vehicles “suicide” and a “gift” to Chinese industry.

Czech automotive sector calls EU emissions plan ‘unrealistic’

The European Commission’s new plan to reduce CO2 emissions from newly produced heavy lorries by 90% by 2040 is unrealistic, the Automotive Industry Association (AutoSAP) said in a press release on Thursday.

Traffic-linked air pollution exceeds WHO limits across UK, EU capitals: study

Although nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions in the European Union and the United Kingdom are on the decline, they do not meet guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation, a study shows.

Will the EU approve the biggest act of aviation greenwashing in decades?

The European Commission is considering placing a green investment label on thousands of planes; it must reverse course, argues Jo Dardenne of Transport & Environment, a green NGO.