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War on CO2: Will European transport really change from 2035?

Stop the sale of polluting vehicles from 2035; there is the European Parliament’s approval. An important challenge that feeds green dreams, but also great doubts.


Transport is responsible for one fifth of Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions; 70% are caused by road transport. This is why, on 14 February, the European Parliament approved the draft law that will ban the sale of vehicles that emit CO2 after 2035. A measure that is part of the wider and ambitious package "Ready for 55%", which aims, citing the official text, to "to reduce net emissions by at least 55 % by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050".

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Un post condiviso da Renew Europe (@reneweurope)

Although approved with 340 votes in favour, 279 against and 21 abstentions, the majority Ursula wavered, with the EPP opposing together with the conservatives of the ECR and the right of Identity and Democracy: in other words, the great European families of the current Italian government. A fringe of the People’s Party, on the other hand, is in favour of the green move, alongside the Greens, S&D socialists, NGL left, and Renew Europe liberals. Jan Huitema, the Dutch MEP and rapporteur of the proposal, is a member of this latter group: in a video interview, available on the European Parliament website, he explains how mobility will change after 2035.

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Un post condiviso da Jan Huitema (@janhuitema)

In twelve years' time, if you want to buy a new car or van, you will be able to choose only vehicles powered by zero-emission engines: electric or hydrogen, with a trend, given the greater affordability, towards the first. Bandits instead gasoline, diesel, LPG and methane. ATTENTION! The second-hand market and the vehicles currently in circulation are not involved in this new legislation: you can continue to use them, even if there may be increases on fuels, insurance and stamps, to discourage their use. In order to monitor progress on emissions in road transport, the European Commission will undertake to publish a biennial report from the end of 2025.

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This is the first step for the green revolution that the Brussels summits are putting in place: but what is the current situation of European mobility? According to a report by the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), the Union’s fleet of over 286 million vehicles consists of:

  • 249 million cars
  • 29.5 million light commercial vehicles (vans)
  • 6.4 million heavy vehicles
  • 714k buses

Twelve years the average age of a vehicle, rising to fourteen for heavy vehicles. Only 0.8% of cars are electric, the remaining part is powered by petrol (51.1%) and diesel (41.9%); diesel engines dominate (over 90%) if we talk about vans and trucks. A continent, cradle of historical brands of the automotive industry, linked to fossil fuels, that will have to deal with the doubts and difficulties of citizens-drivers.

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The first concern touches the pockets of consumers: will electric vehicles be cheaper? Considering the best-selling electric cars of 2022, the average cost is around 33k euros. An initial investment not impossible but still important. Considering the long-term advantages, such as the cost of electricity (excluding increases in bills), the maintenance and the temporary or total exemption of the stamp, the expense is surely equal to a car with endothermic engine, even advantageous. In addition, the resulting second-hand electricity market, now almost non-existent, will collaborate to expand the audience of potential buyers. We must also consider possible and substantial economic incentives to the scrapping of polluting vehicles, as well as the purchase of green cars: given the uncontrolled debt emerged with the italian "Bonus 110%, we recommend a more reasoned model than the assignment of credit.

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Several questions concern macroeconomic aspects: how and how will this radical transformation affect the European economy? Certainly, the increased demand for batteries and semiconductors could find European industries unprepared, being already almost completely dependent on Asian countries. Closely interlinked is the increase in demand for lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt and graphite, elements necessary for the manufacture of these. How real is the risk of a new energy dependence, like that experienced by the Old Continent with oil and gas?

But it is the potential loss of 600k employments in the automotive sector that has most agitated the European opposition. The Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, also stressed this risk, asking for and obtaining a clause to revise the provision to 2026: based on the gap between lost and generated jobs, dates and deadlines can be remodelled. 

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I wonder what we are willing to give up, or rather, how much we are willing to change. Groomers, farriers, workers, printers: jobs that have disappeared because of automation and technological innovation (and who knows how many others will disappear). Take for example the blacksmith, today almost completely extinct because, ironically, of his natural predator, the car. If in the past the priority had been to preserve this profession (I am not talking about employments but types of work), today we probably would not receive packages from the other side of Europe, directly at home, perhaps ordered the day before. Prices would be increased tenfold due to the shipping costs, quantifiable in oat for horses and coach stations. Would we be willing to slow down? To pay for all this? Frankly: I don’t think. Unlike in the past, we know well in advance the numbers of workers at risk, why not focus on training and reintegration of these in the medium to long term?

Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for Economy, talks about "horizon" to give to companies, so that they can plan investments and strategies. A horizon that, however, does not seem perfectly delineated in this first measure. It is hoped that incentives to public transport will be mentioned in the coming years: if made widespread and efficient, it could reduce emissions in large cities and suburbs, as well as the purchase of vehicles, both polluting and non-polluting. Certainly not the solution to the problem, but certainly a valuable helper. What is missing is a plan to strengthen rail freight transport: if taken to the heart of the industrial and residential centres, it would help reduce traffic, and therefore pollution, of heavy vehicles. Regarding the latter, finally, do not fall within the block of 2035: for them only limits to CO2 emissions in the most stringent time.

Planet and its inhabitants await updates.

Image CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash