Towards a Green Transition to fight climate change
At the Paris climate conference in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The core goals of the Paris agreement are to keep the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing ambitious efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. This agreement was widely celebrated as “‘the world’s greatest diplomatic success”.
We now must move from words to actual deeds. I have been environmentalist for over 40 years and I am genuinely convinced that we cannot stop climate change without a green transition of the transport sector. Transport represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of air pollution in cities. Unfortunately, the transport sector is the only sector which has not seen the same gradual decline in emissions as other sectors, i.e. the housing, energy and industrial sector. In fact, transportation specifically is the fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gases. If we want to achieve the climate goals of the Paris agreement we need to move greener, consume less fuel and significantly improve traffic and transport management through more accurate information on traffic and infrastructure conditions.
The responsibility of cities and citizens to develop the transportation system
This intent calls upon our personal lifestyle and daily behaviour, which already can lead to big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, particularly in the area of transport. According to scientific studies, almost all car rides within towns and cities are shorter than six kilometres. These are ideal distances to shift a substantial number of trips from cars to other modes like walking, biking, or public transport. More and more cities start to realise the great potential of an efficient public transport system and smart investments in bicycle infrastructure. Copenhagen for instance has seen a 300% increase in cycling in the past 20 years. Today, Copenhageners on bikes account for more than half of trips within the city centre, which makes Copenhagen to have the best air quality among 22 major European cities. The city is described to have become more worthwhile, vibrant, walkable and attractive for living by its citizens.
Besides the daily choice of transport, we can also reduce the individual carbon footprint by reducing air travel and taking a vacation closer to home. As the climate impacts of air transportation are at present not adequately regulated under national or international laws, the responsibility is on individuals and businesses to limit their flying as much as possible. Not only do airplanes consume an immense amount of fuel but the effect of the CO2 emissions at the high altitudes of the atmosphere is two to three times higher compared to the emissions on the ground. An environmentally better alternative to flying is land-based transport. Europe has an extensive rail network meaning that almost every destination is accessible by train. Not only will this reduce your carbon emissions drastically but it will also give you the opportunity to see some of the spectacular scenery that Europe has to offer. The potential contribution of rail transport to the formation of a more sustainable transport system is widely acknowledged.
A sustainable economic system for Europe and beyond
Furthermore, we have to think — and I mean to think seriously — about how to achieve a shift of paradigm towards a more sustainable global economic system. Globalisation makes it easy to send goods around the world. The cost for shipping goods has never been as low as now. International trade involves countries specialising in and exporting goods in which they have a comparative advantage and importing other goods from their trade partners. The choice of the means of transportation does severely influence the amount of CO2 emitted for the transportation of goods. Maritime shipping now accounts for 90% of the transportation of global trade by volume and is responsible for around 1000 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. And Shipping emissions predicted to increase further between 50% and 250% by 2050 — depending on future economic and energy developments. Summing up, we can say that shipping is by far the biggest transport polluter in the world. Research shows that a single large container ship can emit cancer and asthma-causing pollutants equivalent to that of 50 million cars in one year. The recent boom in the global trade of manufactured goods has also resulted in a new breed of super-sized container ships which immensely consume fuel and consequently produce an immense environmental footprint.
The world state community urgently needs to be more ambitious when tackling emission standards for maritime but also aviation transport. If states do not overcome their reluctances to cut global transport emissions drastically, the prospects for meeting the goals of the Paris agreement do not look very promising. The European Union has great potential to lead the world community on this path. If we succeed in becoming a credible role model for climate protection worldwide, we can motivate other states to follow our lead but also serve them with consistent best practice experience.
The EU member states have proven to be more powerful, if they act jointly. EU leaders have already committed themselves to transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low carbon economy and to tackle climate change persistently. As a next step, member states have to get their acts together and establish a strong governance system to deliver its commitment under the Paris Agreement. If we want to meet the ambitions of our 2030 agenda, the time to act is now.
Michael Cramer (@MepMCramer)
Michael Cramer has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2004, working mainly on EU transport policy. After ten years as transport policy spokesperson for the Green group, he was elected chairman of the Committee on Transport and Tourism from 2014 until 2017. He is also a Member of the EP’s delegation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and chairs the parliamentary platform “Rail Forum Europe”. He has initiated the project “Iron Curtain Trail”. This project transfers the concept of a “bike ride through history” from the “Berlin Wall Trail” to the European level.