• Tracy Harfouche

Better mobility for better connections

Transport: a major obstacle to EU’s climate goals

The European Union has been adopting climate and energy policies for years to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of all sectors. This reduction was accomplished in all sectors, except for one: transportation, which accounts for one-quarter of the EU’s GHG emissions. In fact, emissions from transport increased in Europe by 33.5% between 1990 and 2019. Particularly, the EU’s emissions from road transport escalated considerably in the past three decades to take the biggest share, 70% of transport emissions, while the rest of the emissions come mainly from shipping and aviation.

The European Green Deal comprises a set of proposals to ensure the transition to greener mobility that offers everyone clean, accessible, and affordable transport. Aligned with the ambition of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, the EU transport sector needs to reduce 90% of its emissions. However, the European Commission expects CO2 emissions from transport to increase by 3.5% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, then to subsequently decrease by 22% by 2050. In other words, the 90% reduction may remain an unattained objective, making transport a major obstacle to reaching the EU’s climate goals.

The negative impacts of transport are not limited to GHG emissions as transport is a significant source of air and noise pollution in cities too. Primary air pollutants such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can seriously harm human health and cause premature death. For more clarification, particulate matters are microscopic particles of solids or liquids suspended in the air that vary in size and are made up of different components like dust, soil, nitrates, sulfates, metals, and others. Humans can inhale these tiny particles, which cause sneezing, coughing, irritation, and shortness of breath in the short term, in addition to lung diseases, asthma and heart diseases in the long term. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that pollutant emissions from engines cause 75,000 premature deaths in Europe each year. Besides that, the transport infrastructure is in fact growing at the expense of natural lands and ecosystems, increasing habitat loss and land use change.

What has been done so far?

The recent years witnessed several reforms, or at least reform attempts, in the transportation sector in several European countries as authorities realised the huge threat of this sector while public demand for cleaner and safer cities grew. The reforms included reallocating public space for walking, cycling and greenery, investing in electric, shared, and public transport, and phasing out petrol, diesel, and gas cars in cities. In addition to that, the European Parliament lawmakers voted in June 2022 to support an effective EU ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars as of 2035, a decision that will pave the way to a cleaner and healthier future.

On a smaller scale, many plans and initiatives are taking place on regional levels too. In 2020, the Brussels Capital Region established Good Move, a sustainable urban mobility plan to address congestion and pollution. The main purpose of this plan is to change the mobility habits of residents by making Brussels a city where walking and cycling are easy and safe. However, current numbers still highlight a high use of cars and congestion in the city. The implementation of such plans may take time and have some “side effects”. Changes to the Good Move circulation plan that took effect in August to prevent cars from crossing the city centre by diverting them to the ring road, increased traffic jams on the ring road of Brussels. But on the bright side, several streets will ban cars and become for pedestrians soon.

People’s demand for green spaces and pedestrian streets is in fact on the rise. An online survey polled by YouGov last year showed that 82% of residents of several European cities want more green spaces in their cities.

In February 2022, Clean Cities tested 36 European cities to evaluate their mobility transition journey. The assessment encompassed many factors from walking and cycling spaces to road safety, affordability of public transport, and air quality, among others. Oslo ranked highest in the report, followed by Amsterdam while Naples appeared at the bottom for lack of walking and cycling roads, bad air quality, and congestion.

What can companies do to minimise their mobility emissions? And what is Greenfish part of Accenture doing?

Companies are also involved in this green transition to help meet Europe’s ambitions and guarantee a safer future for all. By offering sustainable mobility options, companies can significantly reduce their emissions and costs. The Belgian government has taken measures, like the Mobility Budget, to provide companies with mobility options and solutions for their employees.

To put our goals into action, Greenfish part of Accenture implemented the Mobility Budget in September 2019 to reduce its mobility emissions, which happen to be its biggest source of emissions. In 2020, the number of company cars in our Belgian offices exceeded 100. This number decreased in 2021 to reach 76, while today we are at 71 company cars out of 122 employees eligible for this option.

What does that mean in terms of emissions? We have estimated saving a bit less than 2 TCO2e each time an employee doesn’t opt for a company car. However, other emissions linked to public transportation are not calculated in this estimation. The below graph clarifies how our emissions changed between 2018 and 2021.

The Mobility Budget was not the only solution we proposed to reduce our impact. Opening new offices in Antwerp and Ghent for instance, in addition to our office in Brussels, minimised the car use of our employees in Flanders. No matter the size of your company and the number of employees you have, taking action stays a must.

Given the importance of transport to businesses and global supply chains, decarbonising the mobility sector is a necessity to ensure economic stability along with a safe and profitable future. Approving the right laws is great, but the real achievement remains in the implementation. That’s why the European Mobility Week is a reminder for everyone to follow up on the progress of the EU mobility transition, a needed goal to foster the single market and increase connectivity among Europe’s regions.

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