• Cities can accelerate and drive the green transition, boosting well-being and prosperity in the process, by adopting zero-emission vehicles.
  • But fractured governance is making it challenging to implement plans for carbon-neutral transport by 2040.
  • By strengthening innovation and competition, Europe can propel a green economic recovery and demonstrate a sustainable transport system.

According to the European Commission, cities cover just 3% of land on Earth, yet they produce around 72% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Cars, buses and all forms of transport are not only major contributors towards these carbon emissions, but also have a huge impact on air quality, noise pollution and the well-being of the people living and working in these urban centres.

It is estimated that, while 55% of the world’s population lives in cities, already a very high proportion, the world’s urban population is set to double by 2050, with nearly 85% of Europeans living in cities. It is therefore paramount that we make cities as safe, healthy and pollution-free as possible in order to preserve the well-being of future generations. Electromobility, powered by both batteries and fuel cells together with automation, is an essential part of the solution.

Removing barriers to sustainable transportation

Two of the sectors most affected by emissions-reduction obligations are transport and manufacturing, both of which will need specific policies to accelerate their transition towards greener products. While European truck manufacturers are adapting quickly to meet this transition, the EU needs to support their ability to deploy those solutions across the continent – and the world.

The technology is on its way. In fact, industry leading competitors are working together for the first time to accelerate the development of more sustainable transport solutions. This is demonstrated by the cellcentric joint venture for the fast-tracking of hydrogen fuel cell technology between Volvo Group and Daimler Trucks or the partnership to bring about a high-performance charging network for battery electric, heavy-duty long-haul trucks and coaches across Europe by Volvo Group together with Daimler Trucks and The Traton Group – set to be launched in the coming months.

What we really need now is for policy-makers to demonstrate the same ability for collaboration towards a harmonized implementation of zero-emission zones across the single market. This will create a solid and significant demand for zero-emission vehicles and machines – a very important basis for both vehicle manufacturers and infrastructure providers.

A harmonized single market approach towards zero-emission city zones would boost innovation, competitiveness and turn several concrete environmental challenges into one real green deal.

—Martin Lundstedt.

The fractured governance we currently have makes it challenging to implement the sustainable transportation necessary to tackle climate change. A harmonized single market approach towards zero emission city zones would boost innovation, competitiveness and turn several concrete environmental challenges into one real green deal. These are varied challenges such as how to accelerate implementation between cities and regions without additional regulations, how to create a solid and significant demand for zero emission vehicles to speed up cost reductions and how to ensure the well-being of citizens together with a climate-neutral society.

Regulate zero emission zones in cities

Currently, a truck or bus being granted access in one urban area might not benefit from the same type of access in a different city in an adjacent member state. Take for example two Scandinavian neighbours: Denmark and Sweden.

Copenhagen in Denmark places an emission limit for transport of Euro V, while Malmö in Sweden has Euro VI. These two cities have a very long history of cooperation and are less than 8km driving distance apart, yet they face two very different regulations.

Since Euro VI is the latest emission step in Europe, implemented as a requirement for vehicle sales across the EU since 2014, it would be natural to harmonize this to Euro VI for all cities in Europe. The good news for now is that Copenhagen will finally align with Malmö and use Euro VI from 2022, but this kind of alignment is needed on a much broader scale across Europe.

How is the World Economic Forum helping to scale vehicle electrification?

Emissions from mobility will increase through 2050, jeopardising our chances to combat climate change. By electrifying urban fleets, we can mitigate more than 70% of mobility CO2 urban emissions, remove 50% of city air pollution, and electrify rides to everyone - making the electrification transition more effective and equitable.

Understanding that coordination is needed to create tangible progress, this February the World Economic Forum launched a collaborative umbrella network that will help sync and synergize related global initiatives: the Zero Emissions Urban Fleets (ZEUF) network.

ZEUF is a network of stakeholders for accelerating urban fleets electrification, targeting 100% by 2030. Initiated by the World Economic Forum’s Global New Mobility Coalition in partnership with Uber, T&E, EuroCities, Free Now, LeasePlan, Door2Door, Lime, Blot, Voi, AEDIVE, Polis, The Climate Group, Race to Zero, and others, ZEUF is an open network that convenes periodically to facilitate informal know-how exchange and efforts coordination.

By adopting only zero-emission vehicles and machines, cities can effectively accelerate and drive the green transition. Together with my colleagues at the European Round Table (ERT) for Industry – which has been formed to advocate for a more competitive European economy – I am making a personal plea to urge national and local policy-makers across the EU to jointly decide and implement firm plans to regulate urban areas into zero-emission zones. This is one of the best ways that they could boost the Green Deal while incentivizing green innovation across the transport industry.

The European-based truck industry shares a joint pledge to lead the global transition to carbon neutrality in the on-road freight sector by 2050. Given the long operating life cycle of trucks, this actually means that by 2040 all new commercial vehicles sold must be fossil free.

In order to achieve this, the EU Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy set the target of “100 European climate neutral cities by 2030”. And we know just how important not only trucks – but buses, cars, construction equipment and all other forms of city transport – are to making this a reality.

A network of quieter, emission-free electric-powered transport would address several areas affecting the well-being of our citizens – most notably air pollution and noise. It is an important step towards not only a climate-neutral Europe, but a climate-neutral world.

EU must evolve to bolster a green recovery

It’s imperative we make this work. The single market has grown and evolved as the economy has changed. It must now change again to address new challenges. The EU faces the considerable task of rebuilding its economy after the pandemic, replacing the jobs that have been lost and unlocking new sources of growth. As it does so, it must ensure that it delivers the twin green and digital transitions which have been promised to Europe’s citizens. Deeper integration of various markets across the EU can secure Europe’s globally leading position in efficient and sustainable transport.

The EU has an opportunity to prove itself as a forerunner for other markets – collaborating across regions to demonstrate that the alignment of regulations and infrastructure requirements across municipality boundaries will allow for sustainable transport to flourish. It is an opportunity to strengthen the innovation and competitiveness of the sector. Let’s not miss this chance.