These objectives will play an instrumental role in achieving the more comprehensive target of cutting CO2 emissions from transport by 60% by 2050. Currently, a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions come from transport.
The Commission is therefore proposing an ambitious plan which eyes significant reductions of emissions especially in road transport, while it intends to increase rail traffic, on the grounds that is by far cleaner and more environment-friendly.
The Commission plan targets mainly urban and road freight transport. The objective of car-free cities by mid-century is to be pursued through fiscal measures, promotion of alternative transport systems, and building of the necessary infrastructure to move to a widespread use of electric and clean cars.
Taxes and charges should be higher for more polluting vehicles, according to the polluter pays principle. Brussels suggests to review national rules and practices accordingly, where it is not already the case. As a last resort measure, the Commission considers to proceed to “full and mandatory internalisation of external costs.”
Tap potential of European rivers
In its road map toward a single European transport area, the EU executive considers ways to increase alternative means of transport, other than oil-fuelled cars. Exploring the “unused potential of transport by river” is one of the options, where it is possible.
A massive shift toward electric cars and clean vehicles is also a key objective, as already stated in a document published last April. In order to do so, the Commission aims at achieving “co2-free city logistics in major urban centres by 2030,” reads the road map to be published next week.
Promoting “joint public procurement for low emission vehicles in commercial fleets”, such as delivery vans or taxis, is also under consideration.
Reducing road freight transport
Brussels also wants to shift “30% of road freight over 300 km to other modes, such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030.” This target should be raised to more than 50% by 2050. Road freight transport in the EU is four times greater than that for rail.
The shift will likely be carried out through an increase in taxation for road freight transport. Clearly, cross-border road transport would be the first segment affected by the application of such a measure, in a period when its traffic volume is seriously declining due to the economic crisis – Eurostat has just published figures showing a drop by 10% between 2008 and 2009.
Although such a target is in line with the EU objectives and is justified by the high cost for the environment of trucks and heavy vehicles circulation, the risk of this measure is to affect export of some countries rather than others.
Taxes on road freight transport are already very high in Central European countries where foreign trucks are more likely to transit. Czech Republic, Germany and Austria lead the European ranking, according to OECD figures.
If they were further increased, they risk representing a competitive advantage for transit countries, while seriously hampering peripheral member states, and ultimately the EU internal trade.
In order to be effective, such targets should provide viable alternatives (such as railways and waterways) and financial means to develop them. But this is not the case since transport funding in the EU is increasingly difficult to be accessed, argue the critics.