Genuine technology neutrality in transport benefits 2050 climate targets

In the frame of the European Green Deal, the 27 EU heads of state finally agreed on an increase of the 2030 climate targets to 55 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction. This decision, aimed at ensuring that the EU is on track for achieving its 2050 climate neutrality objective, will prompt the review of many regulations necessary to achieve the new 2030 target. This increased ambition will only be reachable if enabling technologies are available and deployed at scale.

Technology has, and will continue playing, a fundamental role in EU’s journey towards climate neutrality by 2050. Whatever sector of the economy, technology is key, but technology alone cannot deliver. It entails massive investments to support research and development, and to construct the first-of-kind industrial projects and further scaling up. This in turn requires enabling policies to attract investors, and buy-in from businesses and consumers to create lead markets.

The European transport sector has also started this journey. Transport is the backbone of the European economy and we need to ensure that our transport system, while progressively decarbonizing, remains competitive, energy-secure and affordable. The objective of reaching climate neutrality in road, aviation and maritime transport is clearly defined and accepted, but the trajectory to 2050 remains very challenging and requires making the right choices and decisions.

Transport is a difficult-to-decarbonize sector because of its complexity. The variety of transport modes and uses in each of them entail that there is not “one technology fits all”. There is a significant difference between a personal car essentially used for urban journeys and one used for daily long-distance intercity journeys. Likewise, a 16-ton lorry delivering goods in Paris is different from a truck going from Warsaw to Lisbon, inland waterways vessels are different from deep-sea ships, and regional flights differ from transcontinental flights. Each sector has its specifics.

In such cases, technology can solve the issues and offer flexible and efficient responses to each of the challenges, if market opportunities appear. This is the key benefit of technology neutrality. This critical principle is referred to in many regulations, impact assessments and official communications. However, when it comes to transport regulations and vehicle regulations in particular, in reality it has disappeared.

The challenge of decarbonizing transport has enabled the emergence of a number of technologies that together can deliver the much-needed climate neutrality by 2050.

These low-carbon technologies include electrification, hydrogen, low-carbon liquid fuels, and probably others to come in the medium- or long-term. The public and policy debate is, however, oriented toward making early choices with exclusive effects. Electrification is presented as the only option for light-duty vehicles and a share of heavy-duty vehicles, while hydrogen complements the remaining heavy-duty vehicles and aviation. In addition, calls or announcements about bans of the sale of internal combustion engines (ICE) support the perception that technology neutrality has been discarded. Clean and efficient combustion of fuels based on renewable or captured carbon, utilizing Europe’s world-beating ICE and hybrid technology is ruled out. Surely, it is about reducing, and stopping fossil combustion emissions, rather than stopping all combustion technology equipment? Strangely, this is inconsistent with regulation of combustion in the power sector, where biomass combustion is defined as climate-neutral.

At FuelsEurope, we believe that a full spectrum of low-carbon technologies will be essential throughout the energy transition and beyond 2050, to ensure security of supply, provide consumer choice, and also build Europe’s industrial leadership. Electrification and hydrogen will play major roles. Liquids will still be necessary for some uses, and the concept of a liquid fuel can be fully separated from petroleum. The transformation and the role of low-carbon liquid fuels as one of the critical low-carbon technology sets is outlined in our ambitious Clean Fuels for All pathway. This pathway aims to bring increasing volumes onto the market to meet climate neutrality for all liquid fuels requirements by 2050.

Fuels produced from non petroleum-based feedstock such as biomass, waste, renewables and recycled CO2 will enable EU transport to become climate neutral and contribute to the EU’s 2050 objectives. By 2050, every liter of liquid fuel would be climate neutral.

Besides scientific and technical benefits, technology neutrality also ensures a fair competition between technologies, and plays a critical social and economic role in the EU. In the case of low-carbon liquid fuels in road transport, it will reduce, for instance, the pressure on infrastructure deployment for fully electric vehicles. It will reduce pressure on demand for critical raw materials. It will also accelerate the reduction of the carbon intensity of transport by reducing the necessity for fleet renewal and enabling existing and new vehicles to access low-carbon liquid fuels.

Technology neutrality will give the choice to citizens to assess which technology will best answer their needs, in terms of practicality and affordability.

The latter will be critical to ensuring social inclusiveness by making sustainable mobility throughout the EU, and carbon neutrality, accessible to all.

We have the opportunity with the revision of a number of regulations to ensure that all relevant technology options can compete on an equal basis and collectively deliver the climate objectives set for the transport sector.

Customers, citizens and markets can then decide and, whatever they choose, Europe’s climate ambition will be successful. And very possibly, it could progress faster, too.

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