On 11 July, the European Commission published its long-awaited “Greening Freight package” to further cut back emissions from the freight sector and enhance its competitive position. The new set of rules puts the – often overlooked – freight sector in the limelight and is expected to impact a variety of transport and logistic companies, ranging from rail infrastructure managers to freight forwarders and hauliers. As the negotiations between the co-legislators will commence shortly, Niels van den Ouden, Director of Publyon’s Transport & Energy team, presents an overview of key issues to watch in the coming months.
1. Growing freight volumes, rising emissions – can the trend be countered?
The freight sector is the backbone of the EU’s internal market and enables the circulation of goods across the bloc. At the same time, the sector is responsible for over 30% of transport CO2 emissions. Moreover, freight volumes – and thereby emissions – are expected to rise significantly: 25% in 2030 and 50% by 2050. As such, the freight sector plays an important role in achieving the EU’s ambition to reduce the carbon footprint of the transport sector by 90% by 2050. With the Greening Freight package, the Commission aims to cut back emissions by proposing new rules to optimise operational efficiency across the different transport modalities and by incentivising zero-emission technologies. However, as earlier legislative initiatives by the Commission failed to reverse the trend of rising emissions, it remains to be seen whether this package (which is still to be complemented by the revision of the Combined Transport Directive in September) is robust enough to realise the EU’s shift to clean transport.
2. Weights and dimensions: bigger trucks, new concerns
Today, over 50% of goods are carried by road in the EU. The Weights and Dimensions Directive determines the rules of the game, as it sets the maximum weight, length, and height standards for trucks. Most controversially, the Commission proposes to permit larger (44 ton) trucks to cross neighbouring Member States on the condition that countries on both sides allow the circulation of these vehicles on their own roads. This measure can be seen as a clear effort to harmonise today’s patchwork of diverging national standards. However, the Commission has included an end-date in its proposal. As of 2035, only low-emission trucks will be allowed to weigh up to 44 tons when crossing borders. The proposed measure has triggered criticism from different stakeholders. On the one hand, certain Transport & Tourism Committee (TRAN) members question whether low-emission alternatives will be widely available by 2035. On the other hand, lawmakers fear that larger trucks will (further) deteriorate vital infrastructure such as bridges, and rail industry group CER fears larger trucks might result in a modal backshift from rail to road.
3. Boosting the modal share of rail
To make rail a more viable alternative to road transport, as part of the Greening Freight package, the Commission has proposed a new Regulation to optimise the European rail capacity management system. Currently, track capacity is booked on an annual basis by national infrastructure managers. Consequently, the already congested rail system leaves little space for freight forwarders who often need to book their capacity for cross-border journeys at short notice, resulting in long waiting times and delays. The Commission proposes to build in more flexibility for infrastructure managers to better answer market needs and allow for short-term capacity allocation. This should result in an additional 4% of capacity on the rail tracks. To unlock the full potential of rail capacity, a big responsibility lies in the hands of the national infrastructure managers, as they will be responsible for balancing the interests of the various railway undertakings (both passenger and freight operators) that make use of the tracks. Various TRAN members have already questioned the Commission why there is no ‘European’ network manager in place. According to the Commission, there is no appetite for such an entity among Member States.
4. CountEmissions: doubts about the voluntary nature of the scheme
This brand-new initiative should make it easier for companies and consumers to retrieve information on the carbon footprint of transport services. The Commission introduces a voluntary framework for companies to calculate and publish their carbon emissions in a standardised way (based on ISO standard). The voluntary nature of the scheme seems a controversial topic for discussion. Whereas various TRAN members are concerned the voluntary nature will be at the detriment of the instrument’s effectiveness, industry groups such as IRU an CLECAT welcome the voluntary basis, arguing this is a good starting point for calculating a company’s environmental performance and that the scheme can be gradually expanded in due course.
5. Beware negotiators, the clock is ticking
With less than a year before the European elections, the co-legislators will need to move swiftly to conclude the negotiations on the Greening Freight package. During a recent discussion in the TRAN Committee, various MEPs expressed their frustration about the late timing of the package. Moreover, national elections in various Member States (e.g. Netherlands, Poland, Spain) might complicate the discussions as well. Should the co-legislators not agree on final texts before March 2024, the negotiations will resume after the European elections with a new team of negotiators and reshuffled power balance.
Do you have concerns or comments regarding the the Greening Freight package? Make sure your voice is heard!
As the EU institutions are expected to fast-track discussions, it is key to engage with policymakers and share your concerns and solutions shortly after summer. Get in touch if you would like to know more about the opportunities and risks for your company.