Transport to remain big polluter under new EU plan

Siim Kallas

Europe's transport chief called for a shift away from fossil fuels on Monday (28 March) to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect the economy from oil price spikes, but critics said his strategy lacked meaningful action.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said in a strategy paper that greenhouse gas emissions from transport should be cut to about a fifth below current levels by 2030, and to 60% below 1990 levels by 2050.

In the long term, that means eliminating oil-fuelled motor cars from cities, shifting half of road freight onto trains and barges, and getting around 40% of aviation fuel from sustainable biofuels.

The economic crisis has made the objective even more pressing, given that the EU spends around 210 billion euros a year on importing oil.

"Trains, planes and ships last for decades," Kallas told reporters. "The choices made today will determine the shape of transport in 2050, and that's why we are acting now to achieve a transformation."

Kallas stressed that increasing mobility and cutting emissions should be tackled at the same time. "We can and we must do both. The widely held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true," he said.

"Curbing mobility is not an option," Kallas insisted.

Green measures postponed

However, most of the green measures are postponed for later.

The 2030 goal of a 20% cut in emissions is based on cuts from recent levels, but it fails even to cancel out a rise of about a third since 1990, which was mainly caused by increasing car ownership and cheaper flights.

Compared to the 1990 baseline, which the EU uses for nearly all its other measurements of emissions, Kallas' target actually amounts to an 8% increase.

"This Commission paper blatantly passes the buck to the next generation," said Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace.

"The transport sector will become Europe's biggest source of carbon emissions," she added. "This strategy will do nothing to protect the EU from volatile oil prices."

Manifesto for inaction?

Kallas countered that he had to strike a difficult balance.

"Freedom to travel is a basic right for our citizens, and is critical to the development of Europe's business sector – curbing mobility is not an option," he told reporters.

Refining industry group Europia welcomed that stance. "Crude oil derived products, according to independent sources like the International Energy Agency, will continue to play an important role for decades to come," it said in a statement.

Airports group ACI Europe was also happy that mobility would not be curbed, but green transport campaigners T&E said aviation should not be let off the hook.

"This is a manifesto for inaction," said T&E's Jos Dings. "The only concrete action the Commission proposes within its current mandate (2010-14) is to expand airport capacity, which will make the headline targets even harder to reach."

A separate report on Monday highlighted the EU's rapid success in curbing emissions from passenger cars, even with modest goals.

Toyota has nearly reached its 2015 fuel-efficiency target with roughly four years to spare, and Portugal's car market is already there, the report said.

Key measures

The 2011 White Paper proposes a series of key measures for the coming years (2011-2014):

  • A major overhaul of the regulatory framework for rail (2012/2013) to make it more attractive to users and increase carrying capacity for passenger and freight over middle distances (< 300 km).
  • New proposals for infrastructure to achieve a core European "multi-modal" transport network (2011)
  • An airport package to improve the efficiency and capacity of airports (2011).
  • A communication on inland waterways (2012) as well as an e-maritime initiative (2011) to create a "Blue Belt" area without barriers for shipping.
  • Removing restrictions to road cabotage (20122013).
  • A new approach to transport charges with a wider application of the 'polluter pays' and 'user pays' principles. This includes guidelines for for the application of infrastructure costs to passenger cars (2012).

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The International Road Transport Union (IRU) reacted with dismay to the European Commission's proposals, saying it "regrets" the proposed shift from road to rail and warning that such moves will "jeopardise the competitiveness of Europe's transport system and economy".

"The IRU strongly regrets the European Commission's choice to promote a forced modal shift to other modes such as rail - which are simply not up to that task," said Alexander Sakkers, president of the IRU EU Goods Transport Liaison Committee. "The road transport industry therefore opposes increases in taxes, duties and charges, aimed solely at road freight transport, which will be used to cross-subsidise other transport modes, without any economic, environmental or social benefit," he said.

ACEA, the European automakers association, rejected the Commission's drive to shift long range freight to rail or water-borne transport. "A simple call for a decrease in the use of motor vehicles will not provide the easy solution it appears to be, because there will not be less demand for the flexible solutions that road transport provides in contrast to other modes," said Ivan Hodac, secretary-general of ACEA. "Road transport plays a capital role and cannot be confronted with arbitrary measures," he said.

The Commission should also be cautious about picking technology winners, for example by mandating that no oil-fuelled cars be allowed in cities by 2050. "It is general practice that EU policy avoids predicting prematurely technology 'winners' and the White Paper must adhere to that," Hodac warned.

Environmental campaigners at Greenpeace said the Commission plan "fails to set out a coherent strategy to decarbonise the [transport] sector and wean it off oil". "This strategy will do nothing to protect the EU from volatile oil prices and supply disruptions such as those we are experiencing because of events in North Africa. By delaying action to reduce Europe's oil consumption, we will continue to face the risks of extreme oil exploration in fragile areas. A year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the EU has learnt nothing."

Eurelectric, the association representing EU power firms such as Germany's E.ON and France EDF, welcomed the Commission's objective to rid the transport sector of its oil addiction, saying it is "convinced that the shift towards an electrified transport system is the solution".

"Electric mobility, with silent propulsion systems and no tailpipe emissions, is the solution for making urban areas sustainable. We welcome the initiative to phase out conventional cars and light duty trucks in cities but we believe that this change can be introduced much sooner than 2050," Eurelectric said.

Better Place, an Israeli company providing infrastructure for electric cars, welcomed the Commission's plans to phase out oil-fuelled cars. But it warned the Commission that this will require dealing with "utility companies that are reluctant to deploy basic charging infrastructures for electric vehicles".

The European rail sector – represented by CER, EIM and UNIFE – welcomed the Commission's White Paper, saying it "fully supports the vision" outlined in the document "in particular the strong references to rail taking a greater share in traffic for both freight and passenger transport".

The three associations were particularly pleased with the target to shift 30% of road freight over 300 km to rail or waterways by 2030 and apply the polluter pays principle to transport. "The rail sector is also pleased to see a strong commitment to creating a true internal market for rail services," the three associations said in a statement.

The European Rail Infrastructure Managers Association (EIM) also said it "supports the Commission's vision towards the harmonisation of the existing European corridors, such as TEN-T and freight corridors".

The inland navigation sector praised the European Commission's goal to transfer freight on ships and trains but said more ambitious measures were needed. "The Commission’s modal shift goals for rail and waterborne transport are limited to distances over 300km," noted the European Barge Union (EBU), the European Skippers Organisation (ESO) and Inland Navigation Europe (INE). "This is despite the fact that the growing congestion problem is concentrated on shorter distances and this is exactly where the bulk of inland waterway transport is taking place," the three groups said in a joint statement.

Responding to the Commission paper, the Airports Council International (ACI) said it supports the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, including a target for low carbon fuel in aviation to reach 40% by 2050.

ACI also supports proposed measures to tackle congestion and link airports with railways. But it cautioned against "unrealistic expectations". "Improved intermodality will provide better mobility, but it will not solve the airport capacity crunch," said Olivier Jankovec, director-general at ACI Europe, pointing that demand for aviation in Europe will nearly double by 2030. "The unprecedented congestion resulting from the lack of airport capacity will not just be a problem for airports. It will be an obstacle to efficient mobility," Jankovec warned.

The European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) hailed the Commission's White Paper and said it hopes it will "mark a turning point for the much-needed Single European Sky, with a new European air traffic management system set to come on stream by 2020". A new air traffic management system "will greatly increase the efficiency of air travel across Europe, replacing the current, inefficient and highly-fragmented management of airspace by individual states," said John Hanlon, secretary-general of ELFAA.

The European Express Association, representing delivery companies such as DHL, FedEx, TNT and UPS, welcomed the Commission's plans to complete the single market for transport. "In addition to the completion of the Single European Sky and the liberalisation of road cabotage, initiatives which aim to increase airport capacity are crucial to express operations," the group said in a statement.

The group also welcomed the Commission's intention to allow larger trucks on European roads "as a way to significantly reduce congestion, fossil fuel use and exhaust gas emissions".

However, it warned about intentions to shift 30% of road freight above 300km to rail and waterways. "Imposing a modal shift, without the availability of a competitive and efficient rail alternative, has never delivered results in the past," said the European Express Association.

The European Aluminium Association (EAA), welcomed the Commission's calls for lighter and more efficient vehicles in the White Paper as a way to reduce CO2 emissions from cars and trucks. "Reducing the weight of vehicles by using aluminium is the most straightforward way to reach one of the essential objectives of the White Paper, namely more sustainable transport," said Patrick de Schrynmakers, EAA secretary-general.

Europia, the European oil refining industry association, said it supports the Commission intent to preserve mobility. However, it warned that "the notion of 'growing out of oil' is misleading". "Crude oil derived products, according to independent sources like the International Energy Agency, will continue to play an important role for decades to come and, in the interest of consumers, should compete with other fuels on a level-playing field," said Europia secretary-general Isabelle Muller.

While broadly favourable to the White Paper, Frank Jensen, Mayor of Copenhagen and president of EUROCITIES, said: "If we really want to make a difference in the future, we need to get people cycling, walking and using public transport. The Commission must also consider a strategy that strives to limit car use in urban areas in general."

"Even if they are lighter and more specialised, cars are a huge contributor to congestion in cities and also require the use of polluting sources of energy," he added.

The EU's transport strategy is based on a European Commission White Paper, presented in 2001, which proposed 60 measures to overhaul the EU's transport policy 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.

A first draft of the paper had already emerged in autumn 2010.

Transport accounts for 25% of CO2 emissions and 73% of all oil consumed in Europe. Oil is still the fuel for 96% of EU transport.


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