Cycling organisations react to the European Commission’s “Fit for 55” package

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Cycling organisations react to the European Commission’s “Fit for 55” package

On 14 July, the European Commission released its much-awaited set of proposals to implement the European Green Deal in a package called “Fit for 55.” It is an ambitious plan containing a raft of legislative and policy measures aimed at reducing the EU’s carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.       

 

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Below is the initial reaction of the cycling organisations European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), Cycling Industries Europe (CIE) and Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (CONEBI) to “Fit for 55,” with a focus on plans to reduce transport emissions.

First, there must be no shortage of political commitment to use and improve upon the Commission’s plan to reduce the EU’s carbon emissions as quickly as possible given the growing urgency of the climate crisis.

Second, the EU cannot achieve its ambition to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 if there is not a bigger and more systematic uptake of cycling across the entire European continent.

According to the European Commission’s own analysis, transport makes up nearly a quarter of Europe’s carbon emissions and is the main cause of air pollution in cities. It is the only sector where emissions have not decreased. Road transport is the worst culprit, accounting for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. The Commission concludes that “greenhouse gas emissions from transport will need to be at least 60% lower than in 1990 and be firmly on the path towards zero.”

But will the Commission’s proposal to completely phase out the sale of new polluting cars by 2035 and install regular charging and fuelling points on Europe’s major highways get us there?

Electrifying motorised transport should be part of the plan to decarbonise the transport sector. But there is a serious hitch in this plan, which is that scaling up the existing technology to electrify motor vehicles and recharge electric car batteries for widespread use will not happen fast enough to make the significant impact needed. To decarbonise transport, much quicker and more decisive action must be taken.

The technology for rapidly reducing road-transport emissions already exists. It has existed for more than 200 years. It is a solution that is already widespread on our streets if not sitting idle in garages and basements. It is vastly more economically efficient to manufacture, sell and create space for. And it cleans up the climate very quickly. It is the bicycle.

The bicycle was already a serious mode of daily transportation and leisure throughout Europe until motorised transport became dominant in the mid-20th century. The promise of the internal combustion engine to provide people with mobility freedom soon gave way to an ever-worsening kind of mobility poverty. We ceded our public spaces to multi-lane highways, tore up bustling communities and city centres to build broad avenues and parking lots.

Now, we are feeling the weight of these consequences: the dependency on having a car to move around, paying the high costs of purchasing and maintaining motor vehicles, the social and community divides rendered by roads and highways, and – worse than all others – the massive toll wrought on our climate and our ability to live sustainably on this planet.

The Commission’s “Fit for 55” package was a big opportunity to propose a more radical transformational shift away from polluting road transport. But it has missed this major opportunity by focusing too much on electrifying vehicles at the expense of more quickly boosting and realising the potential of cycling, which is a zero-carbon transport technology already in our grasp that can be scaled up effectively at a vastly lower expense than electrifying motor vehicles.

The environmental and climate benefits of cycling are obvious but bear repeating. ECF’s own analysis reveals that cycling already saves emissions of more than 16 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year in the EU and reduces air pollution. In 2018, the European Environment Agency reported that the economic value of reduced air pollution through cycling is €435 million. Then there are the savings in fuel: even just the present levels of cycling in the EU correspond to a fuel savings of more than 3 billion litres per year.

There are the savings in production. In a 2016 report by ECF, we concluded that the full impact of producing bicycles means that they release about 21 grams of CO2 per passenger-km travelled, compared with 271 grams of CO2 for passenger cars. Finally, there is the undeniable savings in emissions: anywhere from 33 to 72 million tons of CO2 if cycling levels were to triple in Europe.

Just as importantly, (e-)cycling delivers a wide range of other societal benefits that cars do not, such as improved public health, reduced congestion and noise, much lower consumption of raw materials, fewer road deaths and serious injuries, more liveable cities, better rural connectivity, greener leisure and tourism options, more vibrant local economies and more inclusive societies.

The bottom line is this: if the EU truly hopes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 – and by extension road-transport emissions, which make up the biggest chunk – and do this fairly and truly effectively, then the EU has no other choice than to significantly scale up cycling across all of Europe in addition to – and, we would argue, as a priority over – plans to electrify motor-vehicle transport.

Jill Warren, CEO of the European Cyclists’ Federation: “Boosting cycling is already the best means-tested way to quickly cut carbon emissions from transport on a massive scale, so the EU and member states must prioritise cycling’s further development as a matter of urgency to have any hope of achieving Fit for 55’s climate goals.”

Philip Amaral, Director of Policy and Development at the European Cyclists’ Federation: “Cycling needs to be a major recipient of the Fit for 55’s €72 billion Social Climate Fund to support EU citizens most affected or at risk of energy or mobility poverty.”

Kevin Mayne, Chief Executive of Cycling Industries Europe: “The cycling industries of Europe are ready to continue leading the world in the change to e-mobility. Fit for 55 must support this with investment in cycling and cycling infrastructure, which flows straight through to green European jobs.”

Manuel Marsilio, General Manager of the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry: “Electric bikes, which replace many car trips and avoid polluting emissions, are fast becoming consumers’ preferred choice and are the most-sold electric vehicle today. Fully 80% of the 4.5 million e-bikes sold in Europe last year were produced here. Fit for 55 needs to maximise the enormous further potential of e-bikes to decarbonise emissions and create additional jobs.”

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Summary: 

The European Commission’s “Fit for 55” package missed a major opportunity to propose a radical transformational shift away from polluting road transport. To cut emissions by 55% by 2030, the EU must significantly scale up cycling across all of Europe.


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