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Make transport greener without turning CEE into a graveyard for old and polluting cars

The transport sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions currently represent as much as a quarter of the EU’s total emissions. With the newly-launched Fit for 55 package, the European Commission aims to decrease emissions from transport by 90 per cent by 2050. The work already started at the end of last year with the adoption of the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy focused on creating a smart, competitive, safe, accessible and affordable transport system.

Now, specifically, Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean mentioned three proposals, including what she considered as the most visible and tangible to Europeans across the continent: the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation.

Fixing Europe’s infrastructure gap

“I would not buy a mobile phone that cannot be charged anywhere and in a reasonable amount of time. Would you?,” Commissione Vălean asked. “The same is true for cars, planes, ships and trains. Whether running on electricity, hydrogen, or synthetic fuels, no business or individual will buy a vehicle if they are not 100 per cent confident that they can refuel or recharge it with ease. This new Regulation will, amongst others, introduce clear binding targets on recharging capacity – linked to the electric vehicle fleet size in Member States and along the TEN-T network to boost uptake in all regions and to ensure the necessary recharging stations are deployed by 2030.”

Numbers say that to ensure full connectivity across the TEN-T network of European highways, at least 300 kilowatts (kW) capacity provided by fast recharging points will have to be installed every 60 kilometres by 2025 and 600 kW capacity by 2030. For hydrogen refuelling, one refuelling station will have to be available every 150 kilometres serving both light-duty vehicles including passenger cars and heavy-duty vehicles.

Indeed, Europe’s existing EV charging points are well below target. For Oliver Zipse, President of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) and CEO of BMW, it is clear that the Green Deal can only be successful with mandatory targets for the ramp-up of charging and refuelling infrastructure in all Member States.

“This will be essential to charge the millions of electric vehicles that European automakers will be bringing to market in the coming years and to deliver an unprecedented reduction of CO2 emissions in the transport sector,” he said.

Calling for a 2025 interim goal

In Central and Eastern Europe, we count more than 6,000 electric cars currently registered in the Czech Republic, while the Hungarian market also expanded and it launched the first Green Bus program. Romania has gained approval for a huge support scheme to develop a network of recharging stations that will cover the entire country. And Poland plans to put one million electric vehicles on Polish roads by 2025.

Still, the region is lagging behind.

“As the Commission observed, regional disparities exist which shows that our intention to bring the development of zero-emission transport in Central-Eastern Europe up to speed with more advanced markets is a shared priority,” says Aleksander Rajch, one of the leaders of the CEE Green Transport Initiative and External Relations Director at the Polish Alternative Fuels Association.

Also Patrik Krizansky, Director of the Slovak Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA) reminds that the key objective is avoiding a two-speed Europe in this transition.

SEVA has welcomed the Fit for 55 package and the plan to phase out polluting combustion engine vehicles by 2035.

“However, we think there should be a 2025 emissions reduction target as well, to ensure that the progress is ongoing, not delayed until the end of the decade,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS.

The idea of an interim goal is also shared by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) as well. For T&E, CO2 targets from 2025 will be needed to ensure carmakers ramp up production of emissions-free vehicles earlier, driving down costs and generating more consumer buy-in.

“This is a turning point for the auto industry and good news for drivers,” said William Todts, executive director of T&E. “The new EU rules will democratise electric cars and give a major boost to charging, meaning clean cars will soon be affordable and easy to charge for millions of Europeans. The problem is carmakers will only have to start selling those cleaner cars in 2030. Our planet cannot afford another nine years of big talk but little action from the auto industry.”

A lack of recognition for sustainable and renewable fuels

That’s why all options must be taken into consideration. Electrification won’t be the Holy Grail of transport’s decarbonisation, but it must be combined with other tools. For ACEA, highly efficient internal combustion engines, hybrids, battery-electric and hydrogen vehicles must play their role in the transition to climate neutrality. And this is especially true for the CEE region where challenges related to transport are greater than in Western countries.

“We appreciate the binding character of the proposed regulations and targets as they are very needed to shape ambitious policies and introduce efficient supporting mechanisms,” Mr Rajch tells CEENERGYNEWS. “We also welcome the extended ETS and the ICE phase-out regulated on the EU level, although for the CEE market this will be an even greater challenge than for some older EU countries where this is sometimes an achievable, national target already.”

In this regard, FuelsEurope, the voice of the European petroleum refining industry expressed its concerns about the lack of recognition of the contribution of sustainable and renewable fuels in the vehicle CO2 regulation and the weakening of the carbon leakage protection for the EU industries.

For FuelsEurope members, sustainable low-carbon liquid fuels are essential to the EU’s decarbonisation efforts and the transition to zero-emission mobility, providing security for consumers whilst Member States develop their respective infrastructures and transportation companies transform their businesses in line with the 2030 and 2050 climate objectives. To meet the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, the Renewable & Low-Carbon Liquid Fuels Platform believes that Europe and its consumers need a holistic plan where low-carbon liquid fuels, electrification and hydrogen in road transport sit side by side.

“As part of the CEE Green Transport Initiative, we want to ensure that the EU cohesion region will not be left behind and that the package effectively promotes the market uptake of electrified mobility in the CEE,” Mr Krizansky adds. “This means making sure that EVs are sold in CEE and also that our region does not become a graveyard for cheaper, but very polluting, second hand Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars. We need effective financial mechanisms to help people and small businesses afford the cleaner technologies and provide the incentives for them to switch.”

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