EU’s new transport strategy to put price on pollution

The EU transport sector will lose billions if it doesn't liberalise.

The European Commission wants to make transport users pay for emissions, noise and other harm they cause as part of proposals laid down in a draft White Paper on Transport, seen by EURACTIV.

The draft policy paper, which lays down the European Commission's plans for the next decade, envisages a radically different transport system by 2020, with a single European transport area, open markets, greener infrastructure and low-carbon technologies.

"The economic costs of transportation are likely to increase owing to expensive oil, mounting congestion, scarcity of labour skills and wider application of the 'user-pays' principle for infrastructure use," says the draft, due to be published in December.

Transport emissions rose by 24% between 1990 and 2008, amounting to 19.5% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Commission's estimates.

As a result, the transport sector will have to reduce its emissions by at least 45-60% below 1990 levels if the EU is to keep up with its climate change objectives for 2050, the document argues.

"Considering today's almost complete reliance on oil, it is clear that the constraint on emissions will be the main factor to consider in designing the transport system of the future," the paper argues.

Cars, which account for two thirds of road transport emissions, are at the heart of the problem. But in the future, another challenge will be to tackle high emissions growth in air and maritime transport, which far exceeds road transport, it adds.

Market to tackle emissions, noise

One solution would be to use market-based instruments to make transport users pay for emissions, air pollution, noise or other external damage, the paper suggests.

"This can be done through various market-based instruments, in particular fuel taxes, kilometre charges and cap-and-trade systems," the draft paper states.

For road transport, the paper suggests revising the EU's Energy Taxation Directive to introduce a minimum tax on the CO2 content of fuel, arguing this would "send a more visible price signal to the users".

Proposals by EU Taxation Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta to introduce a carbon tax have been put on ice as sceptical member states told him to further investigate its potential economic impact.

Alternatively, trading schemes can put a price on road pollution by setting a cap on emissions, the draft says. This would be a stepping stone towards an economy-wide emissions trading scheme (ETS) and consistent with the participation of other transport modes in the system.

Indeed, air transport will be included in the EU's emissions trading scheme as of 2012. The same will apply to maritime transport in 2013 if the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) does not agree on global measures in 2011, the Commission says.

The paper also seeks to provide further opportunities for member states to extend road pricing to cover issues such as congestion, noise and pollution.

The Eurovignette Directive, which allows EU countries to charge heavy-duty trucks for using European highways, will not cover the entire road network, it points out. In 2013, the Commission will therefore "consider the gradual phasing in of an internalisation system for commercial vehicles on the entire inter-urban network, or at least on […] the main trans-European corridors, before 2020".

It will also encourage member states to follow its example by introducing measures for private vehicles and the remaining parts of the network, it says.

Infrastructure for sustainable mobility

The draft white paper also looks at infrastructure as a way to promote more sustainable transport.

As part of the revision of the TEN-T guidelines, the Commission is proposing to develop a 'core network' overlaying basic comprehensive transport networks and covering nodes and strategic links. This "backbone of a European integrated transport system" would help to address consistent problems with TEN-T planning, which is not driven by European design, it argues.

The Commission will therefore consider developing nodes for passenger transport where changing between different types of transport is efficient and encourages less polluting forms of transport.

Similar plans are also outlined for freight transport, which would see inter-modal terminals equipped with intelligent logistics. These would be located both at strategic spots in the core network and close to cities in order to organise greener city deliveries, according to the paper.

The Commission is also seeking ways to reinforce implementation of major trans-European infrastructure projects, arguing that member states' focus on national infrastructure is largely to blame for delays.

On Wednesday (27 October), EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas presented the first mid-term review of 92 priority trans-European transport projects (TEN-T) that will get €5.3 billion out of the of the EU's €8 billion TEN-T budget for 2007-2013. It found that just over a half of the projects (48) are on track for completion by the 2014 deadline.

In order to improve the situation, the Commission is floating the idea of introducing targets for earmarking transport revenues to pay for TEN-T infrastructure. The option currently exists but member states do not generally exploit it.

The Commission's economic and financial affairs department submitted a request to delete the latter point from the white paper, the draft shows, and it is likely to prove controversial in national capitals as well.

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. 

In June 2009, the Commission presented a communication on a sustainable future for transport, which called for an integrated, technology-led and user-friendly sustainable transport system after 2010. It attempted to identify policy options for the next White Paper in 2010.

  • Dec. 2010: Commission to publish White Paper on Transport. 

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