10 questions for 2013 to test how important sustainable transport is for European leaders

Opinion by our Director, Jos Dings

A new year has come, full of new challenges and opportunities. Fortunately, for now, Europe seems to have averted the worst emergencies. This should allow for some less ad-hoc and more strategic thinking about recipes to get ourselves out of the woods.

One key element is really that it is wise to spend less financial resources on (mostly imported) natural and energy resources. Let’s face four fundamental facts: our gas will never be as cheap as in the USA, our coal will never be as cheap as in China, our labour will never be as cheap as in India, and we do not have many fossil fuel and natural resources ourselves.  All this means that remaining ahead of the innovation curve and dramatically improving our resource and energy efficiency are going to be absolutely crucial for the future of our ailing economy.

Here are 10 questions for us to ask now and monitor throughout the year:

  • Will MEPs and ministers be able to resist the car industry’s attempts to bring in a whole range of loopholes in the 2020 CO2 targets for cars and vans? If not, the 2020 standards will be much less meaningful and Europeans will be denied the benefits of all the fuel savings. 
  • Will the Commission finally propose a move towards smarter and rounder-shaped lorry cabins, away from the crazy Lego-brick shaped ones that have already caused far too many road deaths and wasted billions of litres of fuel?
  • Will we be able to decide that emissions from indirect land-use change caused by biofuel crops are worth taking into account? If the Commission continues to ignore such emissions, it will promote deforestation and keep investors in the industry totally unsure about what to do;
  • Will the Commission finally propose that infrastructure charging is not just mandatory for freight carried by rail, but also by road?
  • Will the United States and India come to their senses and realise it is better to have a workable global framework for dealing with aviation CO2 emissions, rather than just trying to frustrate everything that Europe attempts in this field?
  • Will the Irish EU Presidency manage to convince Luxembourg, and other diesel tax havens, that it is smart fiscal and climate policy to increase EU minimum tax levels, or will these countries continue to profit from the current arrangements at the expense of their neighbours and the climate?
  • Will Ministers and the European Parliament have the wisdom not to use any more EU money to fund ‘white elephants’ which we have seen far too many of, particularly in Spain and Portugal?
  • Will Europe continue its 30-year tradition of no progress on noise emissions from cars, vans and trucks, or agree meaningful and more stringent standards for new vehicles?
  • Will Europe, after having said in the past that high-lead and high-sulphur transport fuels are for others but not for premium markets like ours, do the same with high-carbon fuels such as those made from tar sands, sending a strong signal to investors to think again? Or will we succumb to Canadian and oil industry pressure?
  • And finally: now that cycling is booming in Europe because of the combined forces of e-bikes (pedelecs), obesity concerns, the crisis, and changing attitudes, will Europe step in and add ‘active travel’ to its transport policy?

Rest assured we will not just watch the answers to these questions emerge; we will, as usual, do our utmost to help shape them. Doing nothing does not strike me as a sensible response in a crisis. Change and action, not stagnation – that’s my new year’s resolution.