EU Climate Policy: Fuel Up, Fuel Down

Airplane in sky

Image: Sean MacEntee, CC BY 2.0

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

One of the big headlines out of the European Union’s recently released package of concrete policies to hit climate neutrality was the phase out of diesel and petrol fueled cars by 2035.

But cars aren’t the only transportation whose fuel is being scrutinized. For the first time, cleaner airplane and cargo ship fuel will also be part of the rule book. Both will be compelled to increase the amount of cleaner fuel in their energy mix until hitting targets, and shipping companies will enter the new carbon market. 

Why This Matters: Transportation emissions — including aviation and shipping — need to fall by 90% in order to hit the EU’s 2050 climate goals. Right now, the trend line for transportation emissions is rising, with domestic and international flights going up most sharply.

  • The shift in fuels is expected to make flights more expensive and therefore less desirable, encouraging cleaner transportation like trains.

While trains could definitely replace individual car journeys, companies like Volkswagen and Opel, have also already announced they won’t sell combustion engine cars by 2035. 

Aviation and Shipping Also Lose Their Tax Break: Another update for planes and ships: no more minimum tax rates. The EU’s tax scheme for transportation fuel hasn’t been updated since 2003, and the current setup de facto favours the consumption of fossil fuel,” says the European Commission.

The low rate and exemption loopholes added up to €40bn in 2016 alone. Instead, new proposals call for a tax structure grounded in environmental impact that would put the highest price on the most polluting fossil fuels. 

Making Train Travel Luxurious Again: Train travel certainly comes out on top of the massive transportation update, and for good reason: “Burning carbon in airplanes is more than three times worse for the environment than burning it at ground level,” Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a professor of environmental sciences at the UCLouvain in Belgium, told DW. “Increasing taxes on kerosene for flying would be a good way to stop people flying when they could take a train.”

Midnight Trains is anticipating this shift: expected to launch in 2024, the luxurious overnight train service will run from Paris to destinations like Rome and Barcelona. This is no Amtrak service: we can’t get over the classy cocktail bar and hotel-style sleeping arrangements.

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