Greening transport calls for more regulation, says EU official

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Both market solutions and more regulation are needed to improve the environmental performance of transport, the European Commission at a conference on the future of the sector on 9 March.

Karl Falkenberg, director-general of the European Commission’s environment directorate, told an audience of transport stakeholders that while market solutions are needed, “the market alone will probably not deliver” the necessary improvements in environmental performance. Thus there is a role for “appropriate regulation,” he added.

Falkenberg was speaking at the opening session of the Commission’s stakeholder conference on the future of transport, a two-day conference at which the EU executive outlined its thinking ahead of drafting a White Paper on transport policy, expected to be published in June 2009. 

While advocating new regulation, Falkenberg insisted that economic development and protecting the environment are not irreconcilable goals. He drew an analogy with the human heart, arguing that a “human has two chambers in their heart, and they are healthy when both are strong and pumping properly”.

Technology innovation needs a push 

The head of DG Environment said “technology can be an answer,” but warned that “technology is developed in response to market signals”. “The market has failed to send all the right signals,” he added. 

Falkenberg and other speakers were impressed by news of financial measures to “green the US economy” and improve transport infrastructure proposed by the Obama administration. 

In the US, Congress “has $82 billion to spend on infrastructure, and they have one week to make decisions on how to spend it,” said Italian MEP Paola Costa (ALDE), chair of the Parliament’s transport committee. “If you compare that with the EU, it is different,” he added. 

Falkenberg commented on the difference in size between the US and the EU stimulus packages. “You can easily identify $150 billion to green the US economy,” he said. While welcoming the US initiative, Falkenberg expressed concern that should Europe hestitate to embrace a green economic strategy, “the wake-up will be tough”. 

Matthias Ruete, director-general of the Commission’s energy and transport department, further argued in favour of proactively developing a “carbon economy” in Europe. He argued that Europe is “good on technology and is a standard setter,” before adding that the EU should “build on” this competitive advantage. “The relaunch of the economy should take the carbon economy seriously,” Reute stressed. 

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