The way to a greener and smarter mobility

Article
Michele Masulli

One of the most important challenges facing the transport and mobility sector is to reduce the environmental impact. Reducing the pressures of transport on the environment and climate is critical to achieving the long-term vision of EU zero emissions by 2050. Over the last decades, emissions from the EU transport sector have not been dropping enough to limit its environmental and climate impacts. In fact, observing the data relating to CO2 emissions in the EU in the period from 1990 to 2019, it is clear that transport is the only sector to have not seen a reduction in its emissions. Therefore, transport is the first sector for emissions, with more than 31% of European CO2 emissions. Instead, for electricity and heat production in the industry and the residential sector, we find a marked difference at 13% and 12%, respectively.

The transport sector is also the most resistant to electrification, which, combined with the production of renewable energy, is a fundamental driver of decarbonisation and energy efficiency. To see this difference, it is enough to look at the share of electricity out of total final consumption by sector. Significant growth trends in electrification emerge in almost all sectors. Between 1990 and 2019, in fishing, for example, electrification rose from 0 to 10%, in services from 35% to 50%, in industry from 25% to 34%, and in the residential sector from 19% to 25%. The only sector where electrification is not satisfactory is that of transport. The share of electricity is less than 2%, mainly due to electric railways, with a slight decline compared to thirty years ago.

Furthermore, the processes of sustainable transformation of the transport system have to deal with a growing demand for mobility both for passengers and freight. It was interrupted (hopefully momentarily) by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is part of a long-term trend. The transport sector also has a considerable economic and employment weight, making up 5% of the EU’s GDP and directly employing about 10 million workers.

The “Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy”, released by the Commission in December 2020, defined a roadmap of objectives to be achieved in the coming decades. Considering only the objectives to be achieved by 2030, the Strategy expected, for example, that:

  • at least 30 million zero-emission vehicles will be on European roads;
  • 100 European cities will be climate-neutral;
  • high-speed rail traffic will double;
  • planned collective journeys of less than 500 km should be carbon neutral within the EU;
  • automated mobility will be widespread on a large scale;
  • zero-emission ships will be ready for the market.

The Fit for 55 Package represents a further important step in the decarbonisation of transport. It includes the revision of the Directive on Deployment of Alternative Fuels Infrastructure and of the Regulation setting CO₂ emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles, foreseeing challenging goals in both areas. A legislative proposal on post-Euro 6 / VI emission standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses is expected for next April.

To foster the transition, a wide range of measures must be used, starting with the development of electric and low-ghg powered vehicles (biogases, biofuels, hydrogen etc.) and charging and refueling systems. Investments in infrastructure and modal shift, which also imply a rethinking of how cities are organised, are necessary, as well as incentives on the demand side. Digitisation can also make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental impact of transport by, for example, developing Cooperative, Connected and Automated Mobility (CCAM). New industrial opportunities can open up – for example, in the creation of supply chains for key enabling technology such as electric batteries.

Positive signs are not lacking, the most immediate, despite the crisis the automotive market is globally experiencing, being the constantly growing sales of electric cars. It can be seen, in 2020, in the main global markets, how sales of electric cars went against the trend of the rest of the market. Compared to a decrease in the overall market of 15%, electric car sales grew by 46% globally. The best performance was noted in Europe, where, compared to a 24% reduction in car sales, a 135% increase in electric car registrations was seen. However, there is still a long way to go. Alternatively-powered cars make up just 4.6% of the total EU car fleet, with only 0.8% of all cars on Europe’s roads being hybrid electric, while both battery electric and plug-in hybrids each only account for 0.2% of the total.