Towards a sustainable culture for urban mobility
Development of sustainable urban transport requires a conceptual leap. Keith Taylor, Member of European Parliament Highlights actions that can change current mobility patterns towards sustainability.
It is indeed a watershed year for our path to a more sustainable future. The Sustainable Development Goals, a universal set of goals relating to international development, were adopted on 25 September at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York, with global leaders finally putting environmental sustainability and climate action at the core of the new agenda.
Later this year, 196 countries will meet at the COP21 in Paris to sign a new climate change agreement. A lot is riding on this summit with the objective to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a universal, legally binding agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. While Paris is an important stepping stone, what happens after is just as important.
Bold policies and stringent implementations are the need of the hour
This time, empty promises won’t do and any agreement needs to be followed up by bold policies and stringent implementation of measures to reduce GHG emissions. When President Obama unveiled his Clean Power Plan, the single most ambitious policy the US has ever enacted to address climate change, he reminded the world that time is running out to tackle global warming.
Transport plays an important role in this picture. As a member of both the European Parliament’s Transport and Environment committees, I am confronted on a daily basis with the discrepancy between the current approach to ensure mobility across Europe and the pressure this puts on Europe’s resources and the planet’s climate. Transport is the only sector that has failed to reduce its CO2 emissions since 1990 and now accounts for almost 30% of emissions in the EU.
Furthermore, it is responsible for 70% of the EU’s oil consumption, largely due to the explosive growth in road and air transport. It is clear that the EU’s transport sector is on an unsustainable path that puts at stake our climate, public health and life quality.
Crucial changes in Europe’s mobility
Without changes in mobility, we will not only fail to halt climate change, but also increase Europe’s dependency on imported oil and risk a future energy supply crisis. According to the World Health Organisation, transport is a major source of air pollution, associated with a number of serious health effects such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. It has been found that poor air quality causes nearly half a million premature deaths in Europe each year.
Unsurprisingly, poor air quality is most prevalent in urban areas, with pollutants from motor vehicles, especially the increased use of diesel transport, as one of the main causes of high particulate concentration in EU cities. Brussels and London for example, two cities between which I regularly travel, are proven to be among the most polluted and congested cities in Europe. Not only does congestion worsen air quality, but in the UK alone, the cumulative cost of congestion between 2013 and 2030 is an estimated £307 billion.
The fact that up to 80% of EU citizens will soon live in urban areas and that urban mobility accounts for 70% of pollutants from transport and 40% of road transport CO2 emissions, shows how urgently a shift to more sustainable transport modes is needed.
On a positive note, I am also convinced that urban transport systems offer the best chances for low carbon transport and the reduction of pollutant emissions. 60% of urban trips are less than 6km. This should be a clear inducement to prioritise non-motorised mobility such as walking and cycling. In combination with public or collective transport systems, carpooling and car-sharing and, where possible, the integration of sustainable waterborne transport such as inland waterways, canals and rivers, there is huge potential for the creation of intermodal sustainable mobility chains.
Europe’s current over-reliance on road haulage also needs to be tackled
Improved logistics and distribution for “last mile deliveries” are needed to make better use of existing transport infrastructure and networks, therefore tackling congestion and bottlenecks. Electric mobility can be a part of the solution towards a sustainable transport and power system. However, to this end, it should mainly focus on e-bikes, trains, trams, cable cars, buses and shared cars. Moreover, a holistic approach is needed which ensures that the energy consumed is sustainably produced and electric vehicles are assessed throughout their lifecycle, including recycling and reusing of batteries.
As an overarching factor, we urgently need compatibility between different European, urban and regional systems, so-called interoperability, for information, charging points and intermodal ticketing in order to make public transport more attractive. Furthermore, I believe that additional efforts should be made in networking and coordinating EU pilot projects, as for example the CIVITAS, Polis and Eltis initiatives, as well as integrating cities as proper actors in the discussions regarding the implementation of new mobility policies.
My hometown of Brighton and Hove won a Civitas award last year in the category ‘City of the Year’ due to the sustainable mobility measures it implemented. These featured policies to promote cycling and bus travel, including improved cycle infrastructure, electronic real-time boards at bus stops to predict the exact arrival time of buses, smartphone ticketing, and a floating bus stop concept, which keeps the cycle path and bus lane separate.
This is just one of many positive examples out there to achieve cleaner, better transport. It is evident that every city faces different challenges and opportunities, and local stakeholders have to adapt policies to their respective circumstances, but it can be done and in the face of our commitments to reduce carbon emissions there is no more time to waste.