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28th Feb 2024

How pandemic opens doors to green transport industry

  • Urban cycling could be one of the pillars for a more resilient economy after Covid-19 (Photo: Jurjen)

While the European Commission is committed to the Green Deal and making it a core of the pandemic economic recovery, the EU's rescue plan and updated long-term budget will be key to tackling the current and future climate challenges.

Polluting industries, such as the transport sector, are pushing for unconditional state aid while postponing climate policy action due to financial losses and reduced sales due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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However, environmental activists stress that the Covid-19 crisis could actually help support the transformation of the EU's transport system, making it more resilient, sustainable and flexible.

Currently the transport sector accounts for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions plus playing a major part in air pollution.

Ahead of the new 'sustainable and smart mobility strategy', which is expected for the third quarter of 2020, the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) are calling on the upcoming German presidency to boost railways and public transport.

"We believe that acting on pricing in transport and focussing on the social dimension rather than pushing for increased competition should be the founding pillars of the new EU transport policy, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis," they said in a letter sent to the German minister of transport, Andreas Scheuer, on Wednesday (22 April).

Additionally, the ETF urged EU institutions to develop a rescue plan specific for aviation, since airlines are facing a severe cash-flow problem due to a 90-percent drop in air traffic.

However, a new analysis by the NGOs Transport & Environment, Greenpeace and Carbon Watch reveals that airlines companies in Europe have applied for €12.8bn in government support without any environmental conditions.

Only in Austria has transport minister Leonore Gewessler warned Austrian Airlines -part of the Lufthansa group - that any bailout would be linked to climate targets.

"Governments must address both the economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis and the crisis we face in climate change," said Faiza Oulahsen from Greenpeace.

In fact, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation have increased 26 percent in the past five years alone.

'Green strings' essential

Separately, the car industry has been lobbying the EU Commission to delay its revision of dioxide emissions standards.

According to Julia Poliscanova from NGO Transport and Environment, "the focus should be on economic support to ensure jobs and green investment are maintained and demand for zero-emission models continues via targeted scrappage schemes".

Experts have also warned that the recent decline in oil prices is expected to further discourage consumers from buying electric cars.

However, the commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, told MEPs on Tuesday that there should be 'green conditions' attached to any car scrappage schemes established by the commission.

"We see the automotive industry asking us to help them, by helping households to afford a new car," Timmermans said.

"But why don't we do this with ecological scrappage schemes, replacing an old and dirty car with a cleaner, even zero-emission one?," he added.

"It's good for the car industry, it's good for jobs, and it's good for the environment," he concluded.

Back to basics

Likewise, the coronavirus outbreak made Europeans go back to the basics: cycling and walking - what some hope might lead to a reconfiguration of roads to allow more space for cyclists and pedestrians.

The European Cyclist Federation (ECF) recently urged all EU countries to allow cycling and to ensure it remains a safe option during the pandemic.

In Germany, for instance, already one of the leading countries in the EU for cycle provision, the health minister Jens Spahn, labour minister Hubertus Heil and bicycle advocates have all recommended cycling as the healthiest option for essential trips during the pandemic.

"Urban cycling is healthy, safe and could help lay the foundations of a more resilient economy for the post-Covid-19 Europe," the ECF said in a statement.

Additionally, EU transport ministers are expected to discuss on Wednesday (29 April) how to minimise the negative impact of the coronavirus in the sector and how to coordinate the relaxation of measures as part of the EU's exit strategy.

EU corona recovery talks could drag into summer

EU leaders hold a videoconference Thursday to bridge divisions over financing Europe's recovery from the corona crisis, in talks interlinked with the bloc's long-term budget.

Women hit hardest by corona economic crisis

While women are in the frontline on fighting the pandemic, they are also exposed more to the economic crisis that will follow. The pay gap could also grow. More security for flexible jobs, and investment in care work, could help.

EU alliance calls for green recovery plan

Some 180 European politicians, business leaders, MEPs and environmental activists have called for green recovery investment packages to develop "a new model of prosperity" after the pandemic ends.

Covid variants put Schengen under pressure

The EU Commission also raised concerns about the proportionality of Belgium's ban on non-essential travel, for people wishing to leave the country.

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