Decarbonization isn’t the end of mobility—it’s a new beginning

By Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, French Minister Delegate for Transport, attached to the Minister for the Ecological Transition

There is no better time to build a new, cleaner, better house than after a hurricane passed. In the aftermath of COVID, this statement can apply tomany segments of our economy—andthe European transport systemis one of them. Decarbonizing it is a top tier priority on the road to carbon neutrality.

Some argue that the best way to achieve it is to restrict our mobility, our freedom, our openness to the world. It is probably the easiest way, but we can all agree that this does not sound like a desirable future. We chose a different, more ambitious path: transforming more-emitting transport while developing less-emitting transport.

First, we must free ourselves from fossil fuels. Replacing them by alternative fuels supposes deploying adequate infrastructures and creating new industries.

Owning, driving andrefuelingan electric car should be as easy and reliable as owning, driving, andrefuelinga petrol car. Some are reluctant to EVs by fear of not finding any charging station. We have to put an end to this fear, by deploying charging stations everywhere.

Because road transport accounts for three-quarters of transport emissions, its decarbonization is our number one focus. But alternative fuels are also relevant to air and maritime transport.

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) must be generalized: Francewill seek to introduce ambitious obligations fortheiruse.Not only should we act at EU level, we must alsodefend this position at the ICAO, and through measures to prevent carbon leakage at EU borders.

As aviation and shipping are globalized, they are subject to strong competition from third-country carriers. Hence a strong risk of carbon leakage, which would be detrimental to both our economy and our planet. To mitigate it, we need to secure a level playing field. Europe must not be naïve.

Second, we must encourage modal shift towards clean transport. And rail isone of the cleanest of all. The Trans-European Transport network is a great asset—the Connecting Europe Express has reminded us so.

Rail freight can take hundreds of thousands of trucks off of European roads. To do so, we must develop European infrastructures and set up a new European support for rail freight operators, as we called for with 16 other member states.

As for passengers transport, nighttrainsprove an efficient and popular alternative to plane. In France, their new start arouses enthusiasm: the Paris-Nice and Paris-Vienna night trains are back, and many more are coming.

Last but not least, we must ensure this transition does not prove to be a burden, but an opportunity for our citizens, our industry, and for Europe as a whole.

I am optimistic about it: turning our transport green means new skills, new jobs, new competitive advantages. By anticipating this inevitable transformation and taking the turn early, European industries can become world leaders of tomorrows sustainable economy. I want our youth to think of transportation as one of the jobs of tomorrow. Together, we will have to take action at European level to make it more appealing. This requires improving transportation workers’social conditions.

Turning our transport green requires massive public funding. We know it—which is why French President Emmanuel Macron recently unveiled a €30bn investment plan in new technologies (independent from the previous recovery plan): small modular reactors, green hydrogen, low-carbon aircraft, electric vehicles, biotech, small satellite launchers…And the EU knows it as well,as demonstrated by the Green Deal.

To make this transformation true, we need citizen support. Despite the awareness that making our transport cleaner and sustainable is necessary, it can be costly. The most impacted households should therefore be supported.

TheFit for 55” package currently under discussion embodies our European ambition : it must take into account these considerations. France will make good use of its EU presidency to push all of these ideas forward.

As a land of inventors and the cradle of so many world industry leaders, Europe has a special responsibility in imagining the transport of tomorrow. Let’s be true to Europe and its history. Let’s pave the way to green mobility.