The European Green Deal – A huge opportunity for cycling

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The EU will become the first to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the European Commission proposed last Wednesday in its landmark Communication on a European Green Deal. Although details are still lacking, possibilities abound to place cycling higher on the political agenda, both at the European and national level.

The EU Communication addresses the main economic sectors affected, as well as proposals on how the EU will be ‘Mainstreaming sustainability in all EU policies’, particularly for funding instruments and national action.

Unsurprisingly, transport has been identified as one of the key challenges. Accounting for 25 % (and growing) of greenhouse gas emissions, the EU will need to slash emissions by at least 90 % by 2050, as compared to 1990. ECF believes this will require incremental change, among other in investment priorities and taxation policies, and will not be solved through technological means alone.

In 2020, the Commission will put forward a comprehensive Strategy for sustainable and smart mobility, which will replace the outdated Transport White Paper from 2011. Another transport related measure relevant to ECF will be the revision of the Trans-European Network-Transport (TEN-T) Directive in 2021. Here, ECF has made the long-time case to include EuroVelo, the long-distance cycle route network, within the TEN-T network.

On pricing, the Commission sent a clear message: The price of transport must reflect the impact it has on the environment and on health. Fossil-fuel subsidies should end.” Additionally, in order to improve air quality the EU will not only propose more “stringent air emission standards for combustion-fuelled cars” but will also seek to revise air quality standards, to “align them more closely” with World Health Organisation recommendations. Against the background of at least 400,000 premature deaths caused by air pollution that occur every year, ECF strongly supports this measure.

No reference is made to walking and cycling!

In order to decrease pollution and congestion, the Commission also refers to automated and connected multi-modal mobilitysmart traffic management systems enabled by digitalisation, smart systems for traffic management and ‘Mobility as a Service’ solutions. While “improved public transport” is specifically mentioned, no such reference is made to walking and cycling. From the perspective of the ECF, this omission represents a weak point that should have been addressed by the Communication.

On other sectorial initiatives, in particular energy and buildings, links to cycling may also be drawn: On energy, the Commission commits to thoroughly analyse all final National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) by mid-2020, which Member States must submit by the end of 2019. NECPs must cover all economic sectors, and as ECF’s analysis of draft NECPs demonstrates, a few Member States have already paid considerable attention to cycling. Regardless, there is much more that could be done for cycling!

As far as the building sector is concerned, the Commission commits to “rigorously enforce the legislation related to the energy performance of buildings” (EPBD) and engage in a “renovation wave” of public and private buildings. Research shows that overall energy-consumption of households depends to a considerable extent on modal choice. ECF therefore successfully lobbied to include mobility provisions on bicycle parking in the Commission guidelines, assisting Member States in the implementation of the EPBD.

As for ‘Mainstreaming sustainability in all EU policies’, the Commission reiterates a 25% target for climate-related investments across all EU programmes. National budgets must become green; the Commission will screen and benchmark them. In addition, the Commission talks about “well-designed tax reforms” that “can play a direct role by sending the right price signals and providing the right incentives for sustainable behaviour by producers, users and consumers”. Company-car schemes, for example, should be overhauled as they incentivise car ownership and use.

In a nutshell, the European Green Deal certainly is a much-needed paradigm shift towards a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. ECF clearly endorses and supports its overall direction, although it is important to note that according to climate researchers, a 2050 target is too late for the EU to be in line with the Paris agreements. Furthermore, we think that active mobility must play a more prominent role in transforming the European transport sector.

Meanwhile, the 2050 objective of net-zero carbon emissions was rubberstamped by European heads of government, with the notable exception of Poland.

Source: ECF Press Office (European Cycling Federation)

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