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Driving change Zero-emission freight webinar inspires European stakeholders
EU | Brussels

Driving change: Zero-emission freight webinar inspires European stakeholders

1 Mar 2024 · Environment

Europe's road freight transport industry, cities and regions all agree on the need to become carbon neutral by 2050. Given the diversity of actors and challenges, which include the frictionless transport of goods, access to consumers, and the reduction of air and noise pollution, how to reach this goal is a more complex question.

IRU and POLIS brought together transport operators and city forces in a three-part webinar series meant to facilitate an exchange of perspectives between key stakeholders on the road to net-zero emissions based on concrete research and innovation projects. 

The first webinar introduced the challenges of decarbonising Europe's road freight industry in (peri-)urban areas and on the European road network. 

Ben Kraaijenhagen, a consultant with over 40 years of experience and currently a technical coordinator at the EU-funded project ZEFES, kicked things off with an introduction to the current decarbonisation challenges and efforts in the heavy-duty goods transport sector. 

He emphasised the importance of reducing emissions from road freight transport and highlighted several solutions, such as optimising total freight movements, streamlining logistics assets (trucks), and further enhancing the energy efficiency of logistics operations. 

Ben Kraaijenhagen also argued that limited opportunities for a modal shift and the overall complexity of the sector call for an ambitious strategy to reach EU climate targets. One piece of the puzzle are EU-funded projects testing zero-emission freight vehicles. These include ZEFES and NextETRUCK which will be presented during the upcoming IRU-POLIS webinars

The roundtable discussion, moderated by IRU's Holger Loewendorf (Research & Innovation Specialist), offered insights into zero-emission logistics from four panellists representing cities, regions and the freight industry.

Emmanuel Arnaud, XPO Logistics’ Senior Vice President of Operations for Europe, said, “Decarbonisation is one of our long-standing sustainability and corporate social responsibility commitments. This is exemplified by our goal to cut our total emissions by 25% by 2030. A journey we've pioneered with long-term strategies to invest in zero-emission vehicles (such as the recent acquisition of 165 electric vehicles) and the development of our innovative LESS® (Low Emissions Sustainable Solutions) programme.”

LESS® uses alternative fuels and vehicles, such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, gas and electric vehicles, as well as multimodal transport solutions that combine road, rail, short-sea shipping and river transport, including the use of barges to transport goods to Paris via the Seine River. 

As such, XPO enables its customers to make significant progress in decarbonising their supply chains. The company's vision is to set and achieve ambitious decarbonisation targets for the road transport sector, opting for a collaborative approach every step of the way. Working with all stakeholders, XPO, a leading provider of innovative and sustainable end-to-end logistics solutions across Europe with a fleet of over 20,000 vehicles, is paving the way for a greener and more sustainable future.

Marc Billiet, IRU’s Goods Transport Senior Adviser, said, “There is too much emphasis on the overall goal of decarbonisation and not enough focus on solutions that are easiest to deploy and implement. Road transport companies should be encouraged to decarbonise their fleets with measures they currently have at their disposal and gradually improve their efforts.”

“Decarbonisation should become more accessible for companies of all sizes. Road transport companies are interested in investing in decarbonisation, including in vehicles and operations, but their efforts must be feasible and affordable. Many businesses have made concrete commitments, but they are often not sufficiently recognised. More awareness should be raised about available opportunities for road goods transport companies. The development and market availability of battery-electric technology for commercial vehicles should also be improved,” he added.

Bart Dumoulin, Project Manager at Bond Beter Leefmilieu Flanders, said, “We’ve assessed different stakeholders contributing to urban pollution. Flemish cities, federations, NGOs and other groups are engaged in a dialogue to reduce road freight emissions. Solutions will most likely include zero-emission zones for freight as well as a legal framework to promote emission-free city logistics and new rules on electric van sales from 2027 onwards. Additionally, a roadmap to phase out goods vehicles with internal combustion engines has been planned,” he added.

Raffaele Vergnani, Project Manager at POLIS, said, “Freight is critical to transport planning and the reduction of emissions in cities. For this reason, road freight decarbonisation and urban freight-related challenges are top of mind. POLIS is encouraging cities and regions to start a path and process to address these challenges, share best practices, and enhance collaboration with companies, prioritising innovative solutions leading to more efficient and cleaner deliveries.”

“Local authorities play a pivotal role in promoting innovation and should focus on the electrification of urban freight logistics, transitioning to more lightweight transport vehicles, digitalising procedures through instantaneous and dynamic information networks, and initiating collaborative and shared urban solutions,” he added.

POLIS members have piloted several innovative measures where logistics providers, original equipment manufacturers and cities are cooperating to test zero-emission freight vehicles in real-world scenarios. Urban consolidation centres, parcel lockers, smaller zero-emission freight vehicles, and digital tools to better understand and assess incoming and outcoming freight flows in urban environments were mentioned as potential decarbonisation solutions.

Overall, this first webinar revealed a broad consensus among the speakers: there is no longer a question as to why we should decarbonise but rather how, particularly in light of rising road transport demand projected for the coming decades.

Many challenges remain ahead. Two of them in particular – zero-emission logistics in (peri-) urban environments and the required energy infrastructure – will be tackled in the second and third webinars.

A recording of the first webinar is available here. IRU and POLIS invite you to the second and third webinars.