The Future of Mobility is More Than Electric Cars

Described as a “Doer” and “Eco Warrior” by Politico, Miriam Dalli is pushing carmakers to take climate change seriously. A Member of the European Parliament, she was instrumental in setting new CO2 emission targets for cars and vans in Europe. Miriam Dalli spoke to MaltaProfile about her vision for a cleaner and greener transport sector ahead of her attendance of the eMobility Summit in Malta on Friday 8th March.

Can you give us a brief overview of the new CO2 emission targets and how the new legislation came about? 

At EU level, there was broad consensus that we need to reduce CO2 emissions to address climate change – the question was just by how much emissions should be reduced. The European Commission initially wanted a 30% reduction, while I managed to convince the European Parliament to propose a 40% reduction by 2030. After a number of meetings with representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission we managed to reach the following compromise: from 2030 onwards new cars will need to emit on average 37.5% less CO2 and new vans will need to emit on average 31% less CO2 compared to 2021 levels. Between 2025 and 2029, both cars and vans will be required to emit 15% less CO2. I am happy with this compromise given that the CO2 reduction is 7.5% higher than the Commission’s initial proposal. It is extremely important that we agreed on an interim target for 2025 as this gives us a starting point, and considering the original resistance there was for a 2025 target, this is quite an achievement. This month the entire European Parliament and the Council will have to approve the final legislation so that it can become effective in 2021.


What importance does the shift to electric cars and hybrid vehicles have in reducing CO2 emissions? 

I never preferred one technology to another, and neither does the legislation. There are multiple ways of reaching the new targets. Electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell technology might all play a role, and research has shown that there is still potential to improve the efficiency of the traditional combustion engine. It will be up to the car manufacturers to decide what technology mix they want to go for as long as we manage to reduce CO2 emissions on our roads in the years to come. 


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What was the car industry’s reaction to the new targets? 

We are in a position today that industry itself understands that there are new technologies out there that can help us reach these targets. In fact, we are currently seeing more electric car models coming onto the market. This wasn’t the case just a short while ago when consumers willing to purchase electric cars often voiced their disappointment due to long waiting lists or lack of choice. I obviously understand that a change in CO2 emission standards requires sufficient lead-time for manufacturers to develop and test new technologies. It usually takes between five and seven years for new solutions to hit the market, so there is sufficient time for the industry to make this happen. I am already noticing an enormous leap forward recently in terms of technology, availability and infrastructure, and this is a trend that will undoubtedly accelerate over the coming years.


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You will be speaking at the eMobility summit in Malta on Friday 8thMarch. What can attendees expect from the event? 

It will be the right forum for people to discuss the challenges but also the many opportunities that eMobility offers. We can bounce off new ideas and learn about new technologies, including artificial intelligence, blockchain, digitization and automation that are all affecting this industry and can help us deliver the ecological mobility that we are aiming for. 


Malta is often described as the ideal testbed for new technologies. Do you believe the island could play a greater role in developing green transport solutions?

I believe that Malta can certainly be a place for pilot projects, not only for eMobility but also for cleaner energy and cleaner industries in general. I also believe that Gozo, which is yet a smaller place, can function as a testbed for new technologies. Many times you hear people resisting electric cars because they are concerned that they will face battery and charging problems. Malta and Gozo are smaller in size, and consumers should be in a better situation to test out new technologies. Of course, this would need to go hand in hand with greater investment in infrastructure. 



Miriam Dalli, Member of the European Parliament 

In addition to electric vehicles, autonomous driving and mobility-as-a-service are currently shaping the discussion about future mobility. In your opinion, how will the transport sector develop in the coming years? 

New CO2 emission standards won’t solve issues such as traffic congestion. They will lead to a situation where we have cleaner cars on the road but not necessarily fewer cars. We will need to add other modes of transport to the mix to achieve that. We also have to keep in mind that each country requires different solutions, which can range from car sharing infrastructure and bicycle lanes to light rails and cable cars. The introduction and mass-adoption of new modes of transport are also linked to having proper infrastructure. I am aware that infrastructure investment is required to reduce the carbon footprint of transport, and we need to ensure that EU funds are regularly allocated to transport projects addressing climate change. 


What’s your outlook for the next five to ten years?

I believe we will see a gradual transition to new and alternative transport modes. I’d like to see a more environmentally and socially conscious society, and that means we will need to invest in cleaner and greener solutions in many areas, including energy, infrastructure and, of course, transport. Investment in research and innovation will become key to developing these solutions. The potential is there, and we can ensure that we move towards a carbonless economy that provides job opportunities, attracts investments and ensures innovation. I believe in policy making that pushes change. Member states should know what country they want in the next 10 to 15 years and ensure that they have the policies that will deliver that transition. Change will not happen overnight as it requires buy-in from all stakeholders: citizens, industries and policy-makers. While I am aware that we are still facing challenges along the way, I am convinced that this change will present us with many more opportunities.


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