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Axel Friedrich, DE

Environmental expert, former long-standing division manager „Environment and transportation“ at the Federal Environment Agency

For years you have been strongly advocating making the transport sector environment friendlier and therefore more – forgive the use of this tired word – sustainable. How close are you to reaching this goal? How is sustainability in transport and transport policy perceived today?

The pollutant emissions from road traffic have dropped significantly in the past 20 years and the new emission limit values will make them sink even more in the next 10 years, to the point that they will no longer be an issue. But the increase in truck and, in particular, air traffic is not compatible with a sustainability strategy. This also applies to maritime transport, which causes more CO2 emissions than air traffic; not to mention the issues of noise and land use. The bottom line is that some improvements have been achieved, but we are in no way close to being sustainable.

In your capacity as a global consultant, you have first-hand insight into how seriously environment protection is really taken as a global responsibility. What’s your assessment? How seriously are people – especially policymakers and industrial executives – about this topic?

People are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that things cannot go on like this – also people in the developing countries; but at the same time, the number of car registrations is rising throughout the world and the engine power is skyrocketing. The average engine power of the passenger cars sold in Germany in the first half of this year was 136hp. My Fiat 500, which was built in 1973, has 18hp! This cannot go on, as it makes the fuel consumption figures go through the roof.

If you look into the future, what will the individual and commercial traffic situation be like in 2020 and 2030? Which types of fuel will play the most important role? Do e-mobility and hydrogen technologies stand a chance?

In my view, road vehicles will still be powered mainly with diesel and petrol in 2020 and 2030. But the vehicles – and this includes trucks – must become much more efficient.
E-mobility and hydrogen vehicles don’t stand much of a chance on the market, as they are both much too costly and associated with substantial practical limitations.

In 2008 the EU pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent (compared with 1990) by 2020. Traffic is responsible for 26 percent of the CO2 emissions in the EU; 12 percent, ie almost half, is caused by car traffic. Can you already see any effects of the EU’s commitment – and how satisfied are you with these results?

The EU’s goal with regard to cars wasn’t ambitious enough. You can tell from the fact that many manufacturers have been able to fulfil the targets before the deadline and the prices of cars in the EU have even dropped. The Commission’s current proposal is also too weak. In view of climate and economic issues, the proposal should stipulate 80g/km instead of 95g/km.

What is your view on biofuel? Is it a sensible, truly sustainable way to go? Or are we just destroying valuable food?

It’s not only that we use land to cultivate biofuel, but we are also causing the same ‘normal’ pollution that conventional agriculture does. The increasing scarcity of land also leads to a more intensive form of agriculture that has substantial negative consequences. The best ‘alternative’ fuel, therefore, is the fuel that is not used. Plus it is decidedly cheaper for people.

The Club of sustainable entrepreneurs – Verein für nachhaltiges Wirtschaften awards the sea to projects that are outstanding examples of sustainable entrepreneurship. What do you think of this initiative – and what does sustainable entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

I don’t believe in asking companies to implement voluntary environmental measures. Policymakers must provide the framework; demands directed at companies simply disguise the incompetence of the politicians. But companies can increase their profits with environment protection, as it improves their image, which customers in turn reward by paying more. The sea can play an important role here, as one can capitalise on such an award and place pressure on the other market participants to follow suit. 

Politics, industry, society – who should be driving force for the development of sustainable entrepreneurship, especially in a European context?

Society – which, in my understanding of democracy, includes the politicians whose job it is to represent society, but which they unfortunately don’t always fulfil – has to create framework conditions. Industry plays a (much too) large role in the creation of these framework conditions. And it’s mainly the losers who have a great influence on politics, as the winners are often not yet there or still too insignificant.

Which is the most memorable SE project you’ve ever heard of in your field of expertise?

Unfortunately, the transport sector only plays an insignificant role in companies’ environmental efforts. The project involving riding one’s bike to work – a project endorsed by a number of major companies – is one of the few exceptions.