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Promoting eco-friendly ways of transport within the EU

Submitted by on 30 Nov 2010 – 17:13

By Jo Leinen, chairman of the Environment committee of the European Parliament

Road, air and maritime transport impacts on many, if not all, economic sectors in our modern societies. While the free movement of persons and goods is one of the objectives of the EU and a cornerstone of the single market, we also have to consider how it affects our environment, our ecosystems and our climate.

Transport was responsible for 27% of total Co2 emissions in 2008, a figure that has since increased. In the fight against climate change it is, therefore, important to tackle this area, searching for ways and means to reduce Co2 emissions and other air pollutants which do not only influence the environment but also people’s health and quality of life.

The European Parliament supports the aim of creating a low-carbon transport sector. It has welcomed legislation on ambitious Co2 emission targets for cars and lorries, on better fuel efficiency, on the use of biofuels-based on comprehensive sustainability criteria- and is now in the process of also developing ambitious Co2 reduction targets for light commercial vehicles. The potential is huge: speed limits on motorways alone could contribute up to 30% Co2 emission reductions. Lower limits would lead to improvements in air pollution, noise nuisance, traffic safety and possibly congestion. The environmental aspect of cleaner transport means is only part of a larger picture- clean cars, based on clean, preferably renewable energy, hydrogen or on biofuels are an opportunity for the European car industry to reduce the dependency on ever scarcer and thus increasingly expensive fossil fuels and to re-establish their position as a market and technology leader globally.

In 2008, the Parliament also successfully worked for including air transport in the EU’s emission trading scheme ETS. Efforts are now also focused on the maritime sector. We know that 90% of transport in international trade, for example, is conducted using ships. Thus, if we are serious about the concept of internationalising external costs in transport, we must ensure that all modes are scrutinised taking their Co2 emissions and impact on the environment into account.

The EU Commission, in 2009, published a communication on the sustainable future of transport. The Parliament supports in particular the notion of regions and cities playing an important role in implementing and further developing eco-friendly ways of transport, including the accessibility of public transport means as well as infrastructure developments favouring the use of bicycles and of clean cars. Without innovative and forward looking projects on the local level we would not be able to achieve our climate targets. Communes often own building stock, co-fund the public transport system or set-up tenders for infrastructural developments. They thus have many areas in which to apply sustainability criteria and environment friendly standards. The more they use these instruments, the bigger the contribution for the EU’s environment and climate goals.

Research and Development is a key factor in the search for a sustainable future for transport and the transition to low carbon transport. Investment in environmentally friendly infrastructure should be given priority, for example smart grids for electric transport or hydrogen distribution networks. The demographic change, in particular in urban areas, brings about many challenges for cities and regions in the field of transport and mobility. They should receive all possible support in dealing with it. When looking for solutions it is crucial to focus on the reduction of environmental damage, making mobility healthier and more efficient. Sustainable means should be used in order to achieve this, such as a renewable energy mix promoting environmentally friendly technologies and modes and price formation measures that give positive incentives for clean transport modes, while reducing or eliminating environmentally harmful subsidies.

In a recent resolution from July this year, the Parliament also recognised the need for better information and awareness rising campaigns to consumers on their carbon footprints. In this regard, public consultancy and encouragement for the civil society to take part in environmental impact assessment and nature protection, in particular for transport infrastructure investments, should be strengthened. We can only expect people to change their behaviour if we properly inform them on the impact their actions have on the environment.

There is a bundle of measures which needs to be implemented in a coherent way to achieve the aim of an eco-friendly and low-carbon transport in Europe. Investment in research and development, setting the right incentives for business and individuals, creating a predictable regulatory environment for producers, applying the principle of internalising external costs, providing the appropriate infrastructure as well as informing and involving the civil society must go hand in hand to support the shift in our mobility with benefits for the environment, the climate and people’s health.