“We must invest in Europe’s potential for innovation. Seventy years ago, Europeans invested in coal and steel. And it turned out to be a historic reconciliation, and an economic miracle. Today we are investing in renewables and algorithms. And the European Green Deal is about reconciling our economy with our planet, reconciling the way we produce, the way we consume with our planet and respecting the environment we live in. That is the core of the European Green Deal.”  

The quote above is from the speech by Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, in the Plenary of the European Parliament at the debate on the European Green Deal in December 2019. It encapsulates the essence of what is now a set of policy initiatives with the overarching aim of making Europe climate neutral in 2050. Among other measures, the Green Deal strives to increase the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reductions target for the year 2030 and to introduce more stringent air quality standards. Transportation sector, which accounts for a quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions, plays a key role in the realisation of the European Green Deal. According to the deal, an ambitious 90% reduction in transport emissions should be achieved by the year 2050.

Working together towards a shared goal

On the 9th of June, an online event “Innovative Transport for a Greener Europe”, hosted by Interact, was organised to highlight and discuss the issues influencing the development towards the targets set for the European transportation sector. The event brought together people working with climate change policy and those involved in land and sea-based transportation to discuss the current challenges and policy developments in sustainable transportation. Participants of the event included experts from the Interact network as well as representatives from the EC Directorates General DG MOVE, DG REGIO and DG MARE.  The event also showcased how Interreg-funded projects and initiatives can create solutions for greener transportation across borders. ECOPRODIGI was proud to be one of the sustainable mobility projects invited to share the work done in the project consortium and the results achieved so far in the field of maritime transportation and digitalisation. The second project showcased at the event was MOVE which focuses on stimulating the take-up and application of green transport solutions for regional freight and personal transport by developing innovative and sustainable mobility initiatives through co-creation with different actors. While the two projects are quite different in terms of their scope and approaches, findings from both projects indicate that collaboration across borders as well as between public and private sectors can boost the progress towards the goals of the European Green Deal.

The bumps along the way

Perhaps unsurprisingly, COVID-19 was one of the topics raised by many of the speakers of the event. The crisis has had a significant impact on the transportation sector, reducing the use of public transportation and causing significant restrictions in passenger transportation around the world. Many were of the opinion that the subsequent increase in the use of private cars is something that should be addressed in order to make sure that the progress already made towards more sustainable alternatives is not halted. According to the speakers, the challenge now is to find a way to ensure that public transportation is safe to use and that sustainable business models are utilised. Luckily, the COVID-19 crisis has also accelerated the shift towards alternative, greener modes of transport, such as cycling, and demonstrated that physical presence and travelling for business are not always necessary.

In their presentations, speakers from the different EC Directorates General highlighted the importance of rebuilding a more sustainable transportation sector, compared to pre-COVID-19 situation. This is also in line with the recovery package, proposed by the European Commission, which strives to create a sustainable recovery path for the EU. Investing in the green recovery of cross-border transportation systems was also emphasised as especially important because it would both drive GDP growth and help to create new jobs. In addition, the role of smaller companies in developing new green technologies and solutions was seen as extremely significant and important. With this in mind, the BlueInvest initiative, launched by the European Commission and European Investment Fund, is meant to provide support for companies working with issues relevant for innovative blue economy.

All in all, the “Innovative Transport for a Greener Europe” event provided an informative virtual venue to share ideas across disciplines, networks and programmes. Although the impact and aftermath of COVID-19 should not be underestimated, the discussions of the event seemed to maintain the need to develop and stimulate the European economy towards a greener future. Collaboration across borders and sectors was seen as an essential tool for achieving the targets set for the transportation industry. In many ways, the spirit of the event echoed the sentiments of President von der Leyen’s speech: “It will be a very long and partly bumpy road, without any question. But it is up to us, to set the pace. It is up to us to leave no one behind. And we know that it is doable. We are determined to succeed for the sake of this planet and life on it. And so many European people, businesses and cities are already showing us the way.”.