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22nd Feb 2020

EU 10-year transport plan lacks green content

  • Rail passenger comfort is emphasised, but not a 'doubling or tripling' of railway capacity as the environment department would like (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission's new 10-year vision for transport policy contains almost no climate change-related measures, disappointing Brussels' own environment department officials who worry that while Europe has met with successes in reducing emissions from the energy and manufacturing sectors, soaring emissions from transport have wiped out those gains.

The commission communication, which aims to set the bloc's transport agenda from 2010 to 2020, is to be published Wednesday (17 June). The text - seen by EUobserver - focuses on solving problems within the sector, such as upgrading infrastructure and improving safety.

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"The most immediate priorities appear to be the better integration of the different modes of transport as a way to improve the overall efficiency of the system and the acceleration of the development and deployment of innovative technologies," it says.

It notes that with "still over 39,000 deaths in the EU in 2008, transport by road remains far too costly in terms of human lives," adding that "he reduction of accidents and of health hazards, the protection of passengers' rights and the accessibility of remote regions must remain a high priority."

The document backs the strengthening of passenger rights, noting that consumer satisfaction in bus and rail public transport is very low.

It calls for liberalisation of the rail sector, arguing that similar moves in aviation and road transport have slashed costs. And it suggests that bus and train tickets should be made electronic.

But it is startling for its omissions on fighting the sector's environmental impact.

According to the commission's own figures, transport has seen the highest growth of any sector in the EU of CO2 emissions compared to 1990 levels.

The new transport communication admits "that European transport system is still not on a sustainable path on several aspects." It also explains that the sector still depends to the tune of 97 percent on fossil fuels and that infrastructure expansion has resulted in loss of habitat.

The single green policy idea that the document contains is the fostering of research and public investment into smart grids for electric transport and hydrogen distribution networks. It also notes that more people in Europe are cycling, but offers no recommendations on how to encourage the trend.

The transport paper has been badly received not just by pro-green NGOs but also by the European Commission's own officials in Brussels environment department.

"It's very much a transport product. We're certainly not a partner on this," Philip Owen, the head of the clean air and transport unit within the environment unit told this website, essentially washing his hands of the paper.

Mr Owen remained diplomatic.

"It could have been a better product but overall we're moderately happy with the document," he said. "We've had our discussions, but came to amicable conclusions. It's a position to which everyone can sign up."

But he added that the environment department will in the next six to nine months put out its own new policy looking specifically at emissions in the transport sector.

A spokesman for Transport and Environment, a green pressure group that focuses on transport issues, said: "Transport in Europe is facing some fundamental strategic questions right now yet this paper offers nothing in the way of answers.

"We need bold action now, not in 10 or 20 years' time. The move towards unconventional sources of oil such as tar sands which are environmentally catastrophic is touched upon [in the communication], but there is no hint of a solution. And yet there are solutions available: fuel efficiency standards for all types of vehicle, road charging schemes and CO2-linked taxation can all play a role."

The disappointing transport blueprint comes despite big promises from the commission last month.

"We need a climate and transport package, blending the question of climate change, pollution and transport together to make a quantum jump," the deputy director-general of the environment department, Jos Delbeke, told Reuters in late May, proposing more road tolls and a "doubl[ing] or tripl[ing]" of rail capacity.

"We've been very successful in reducing the emissions of the power sector and manufacturing by around 15 to 20 percent since 1990, but we've been neutralizing that with an increase in emissions from transport," he also told the news agency.

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