One place you would hope to find some serious thoughts on how Europe can cut its oil use is in the Common Transport Policy (CTP) white paper. It is great to have a 10-year plan for transport, so we can set strategies and targets that take the long-term view and are not subject to the short-term pressures of wars, price rises and politicians needing to get re-elected. And the transport sector, responsible for 60% (and rising) of oil use in Europe, is the place to start.
The paper seen by T&E does contain some positive language. It says the Commission will look into the issue of tax subsidies for company cars, currently €54 billion or 0.5% of GDP according to research, although there is no detail or timescale for action on this. It also mentions speed limiters for vans, the last commercial vehicles remaining limit-free.
But it needs to go much further if it is serious about cutting oil use and reducing transport’s carbon emissions by at least 60% by 2050. Addressing transport speed, not just for vans but also for lorries and ships, would be an immediately effective measure to reduce emissions and cut oil consumption. For lorries, the German logistics industry and police unions recently called for an 80km/h harmonised limited speed (see page 4). We wholeheartedly support this call. In shipping, Maersk recently ordered ships with lower design speeds to save fuel – this shows that industry is also waiting for a clear EU policy in this field.
These ideas will all help the EU to cut its oil import bill. And that in turn will lead to a lower oil price – on top of the savings from buying fewer barrels – because of the reduced demand. This is not a call for cheaper motor fuel prices: a lower oil price means expensive dirty oil like tar sands is much less attractive to extract. And it’s simply better to tax petrol and diesel, and for governments to use the revenues to cut labour taxes, than to write ever larger cheques to dictators sitting on massive oil reserves.
But the CTP is about more than just oil use. We also need EU transport policy to contain a much stronger commitment to fair transport pricing throughout Europe. While the draft paper contains a further step in the right direction on lorry charging, action is also needed on shipping, and decisive action to end hidden subsidies for aviation, such as the tax exemption for kerosene as well as start-up subsidies for airlines and airports. Improvement of the TEN-T strategy is also needed to ensure that EU spending contributes to emissions targets by prioritising clean infrastructure projects.
These ideas would enable Europe to cut its oil import bill, reduce congestion and bring down emissions. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a European transport plan with the aim that less is more?