Sustainable transport is more than emissions

"Curbing mobility is not an option," says the European Commission in a new roadmap for the transport sector, expressing a view that immediately sparked criticism.

The white paper on traffic leaves much for later. Photo: Simes69 / Creative Commons

On 28 March the European Commission presented a strategy that will create "a competitive transport system that will increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment". At the same time dependence on oil will be considerably reduced, and carbon emissions from transport will be cut by 60 percent by 2050, compared to the 1990 level.

The commission's proposal is called Transport 2050 and takes the form of a white paper recommending around forty different measures at EU level. The last time a white paper on transport was presented was in 2001. At that time the commission recommended around sixty measures, most of which are still waiting to be implemented.

In contrast to most other scenarios for transport sector development, the commission states in its new roadmap that the targets can even be achieved if traffic continues to grow. "The widely held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true," said commissioner Siim Kallas when the white paper was presented. A staff working document reinforces the message that "Curbing mobility is not an option".

There are four reasons for current problems, according to the commission: ineffective pricing (external costs are still not internalised), inadequate research policy, inefficient transport services and a lack of integrated planning.

To achieve the 60 per cent target by 2050 the commission considers that ten targets must be achieved, including the following:

  • No more conventionally fuelled cars in cities.
  • 40 per cent use of sustainable low carbon fuels in aviation; at least 40 per cent cut in shipping emissions.
  • A 50 per cent shift of intercity passenger and freight journeys from road to rail and waterborne transport for distances over 300 km.

Some 40 policy measures are listed to help implement these goals. They include road pricing, charging lorries for infrastructure costs, fuel taxation and research and innovation. The commission once again proposes to support or possibly force larger cities to develop urban mobility plans.

The white paper leaves much of the detail on cleaner modes of transport to a strategic transport technology plan due later this year and a clean transport systems strategy planned for 2012.

Transport & Environment (T&E), a network of environmental organisations concerned with EU transport issues, welcomes the 60 per cent transport target, but says the plan for reaching it is insufficient because it postpones short-term action to the point where emissions reductions will "magically" have to intensify after 2030.

"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. Plans to tackle harmful subsidies and to develop greener transport pricing are up to five years away. In short, this is a manifesto for inaction," commented Jos Dings, Director of T&E.

T&E believes that the commission's statement that "curbing mobility is not an option" is both incompetent and unacceptable. "How are we to tackle congestion in cities without tackling demand for mobility in those areas?"

The EU spends 13 billion euro every year on transport infrastructure projects, but the strategy paper says nothing concrete about how to make sure only sustainable projects get funded. "The EU should link the proportion of funding projects receive to the amount of carbon emissions they save," comments T&E.

T&E also sees a risk in the commission urging reliance on electricity and biofuels, while saying nothing about measuring or reducing their carbon footprints.

Per Elvingson

The full white paper and supporting documents

In this issue