Commission outlines vision for future of transport

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The European Commission yesterday (17 June) presented its vision for an integrated, technology-led and user-friendly sustainable transport system after 2010. But environmental NGOs complained that the vision failed to place sufficient emphasis on managing demand and neglected to put sustainability at the heart of future policies.

The Commission’s communication on sustainable transport comes after a number of external studies, evaluations of past policies and future scenarios and stakeholder consultations.

The document outlines a vision for the future of transport and mobility until 2020 and is expected to initiate debate on concrete policy options to be outlined in a White Paper next year. 

“We have to have an integrated mode of transport covering the different modes of transport and facilitating the movement of people and goods within the EU,” said Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani.

While a major increase in population is not expected in Europe, ageing and increased urbanisation require specific measures regarding transport, he said.

According to the Commission, 84% of the EU’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, leading to increased congestion and environmental problems. “The big challenge for the future of transport is to know how to cope with cities,” Tajani said.

The main environmental challenge for transport is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Our transport still relies 97% on fossil fuels. So an important part of our strategy is to respect our 20-20-20 goals,” Tajani underlined. The aim is to have 20% of total EU energy consumption coming from renewables. 

However, reaching these goals will not be possible without harnessing innovative technologies, the commissioner said, emphasising the need for further research into safer and more reliable vehicles fuelled with alternative energy.

Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency, said earlier this year that "we know the technology exists to tackle impacts of the transport sector on Europe's environment". 

"However, many vehicles rolling off production lines are anything but green, the freight sector still favours the least efficient transport modes, and railways across the EU still do not have a unified system," McGlade continued. 

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) welcomed the Commission's vision, but stressed that its ambitious objectives "can only be achieved by developing sound road transport policies supported by a strong business-friendly approach, in terms of better legislation, reducing red tape, implementing incentives for the introduction of technical innovation and best road transport business practices, to allow the road transport industry to drive a quicker economic recovery". 

According to the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies  (CER), the communication gives "inadequate weight to the issue of climate change and the role of pricing in reducing the impact of transport on the emission of greenhouse gases". While it emphasises the need to promote technological change to increase sustainability, "for this to happen, prices must cover all costs," it argues.

"Technological development does not just occur automatically," CER Executive Director Johannes Ludewig said. "A prerequisite for promoting technological change and innovation is the introduction of correct prices. Pricing is also crucial in changing behaviour and in the management of demand." 

CER also complained that the communicaiton was "unclear about what measures are needed to shift freight and passengers to more sustainable modes," and suggested that pricing should play an important role with this regard. "There is a need to ensure that all modes, particularly the more polluting ones, road and air, pay the right price for their external costs," it stated. 

BusinessEurope, the EU business lobby, stressed the need to make all transport types more efficient and further strengthen co-modality. "It is essential to better integrate airports and ports to the Trans-European Network for Transport and to address the impact of transport on the environment in a way that supports business competitiveness."  

BusinessEurope also called for strong commitment from public authorities and the EU to finance, through public-private partnerships, "a well-focused infrastructure expansion to help avoid congestion and time losses". 

Jonathan Breeze, chief executive of private jet company Jet Republic, said the Commission should have increased its powers over local transport policy, to unblock existing capacity in Europe and to create "a truly efficient system". He said that flight movements are "artificially capped" in some parts of Europe, which will "exacerbate the increasing congestion at major hub airports in the years to come". 

The environmental NGO Greenpeace deplored that the communication prominently "features comfort and safety considerations," while action on noise, air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions "only appear as secondary objectives". It also noted that the communication largely ignores issues such as reducing demand and controlling speed. 

"We just can't achieve sustainability if we continue to have an ever-expanding transport sector. If the Commission does not tackle this burning issue, the growth of EU transport will continue undermining climate efforts in other sectors," said Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU's transport policy advisor. 

Another environmental NGO, the European Federation for Transport and Environment  (T&E), argued that the Commission's vision underestimates the challenges and proposes no concrete solutions. "The International Energy Agency has recognised that conventional oil is running out and 'unconventional' alternatives such as tar sands will be even costlier and dirtier. But the Commission doesn't give any clue as to how it proposes to deal with this issue of fundamental strategic importance to the EU," T&E stated. 

In 2001, the European Commission presented a White Paper proposing 60 measures to overhaul the EU's transport policy by 2010 in order to make it more sustainable and avoid huge economic losses caused by congestion, pollution and accidents. A 2006 mid-term update of the strategy attempted to re-balance the policy towards economic objectives. 

According to a recent European Environment Agency report, greenhouse-gas emissions from transport have risen considerably since 1990, and are projected to continue increasing. This contrasts with other sectors of the economy and highlights the challenges facing transport. 

The EU's '20-20-20 by 2020' Energy and Climate Package sets overall reduction targets for greenhouse gases and highlights the need for the transport sector to contribute actively to achieving them. There are, however, no sector-specific goals in the package, and the transport sector's contribution is yet to be defined. 

  • 30 Sept. 2009: Deadline for submitting comments on the communication.
  • Autumn 2009: Results of the public consultation to be published at a conference.
  • 2010: Commission set to publish a White Paper on the Future of Transport, putting forward concrete policy proposals for adoption between 2010 and 2020.

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