Europe puts up good plan for cleaner transport but forgets to sell it

Our work area, European policy for cleaner, smarter transport, is not one that typically sets newspaper headlines alight. For starters, acronyms like ILUC (indirect land-use change, from biofuels) or WLTP (the new test cycle for car emissions) tend to kill mainstream media interest. The ever-expanding Dieselgate scandal is the rare, rather unfortunate, exception, and it confirms the old adage: ‘if it bleeds, it leads’.


But a paper that the European Commission released on 20 July sets new lows in the area. It was a very, very significant paper, with very, very little media coverage. A clear case of Europe selling itself short, and a clear example of Brussels doing roughly the right thing without getting any recognition.

The paper concerned is ‘A European strategy for low-emission mobility’. Anyone having followed EU politics in recent years will have noticed that the Commission has become very inactive, for fear of being seen as too intrusive and overbearing. But in this paper the Commission commits itself to a wide range of proposals in our area, and most of them go in the right direction.

We are going to see proposals for new CO2 standards for cars after 2020. That might include a California-style mandate for zero-emissions vehicles, to create the necessary scale and choice in the European electric car market. We are going to see a proposal to (finally) phase out food-based biofuels after 2020. A proposal to (also finally) introduce, for the first time, CO2 standards for trucks. And to make road tolls dependent on the CO2 performance of trucks. To give clean electromobility (ebikes, electric cars, trains) a chance to take off.

Also, it does not mention a couple of worn-out ideas, such as that road transport should be included in the ETS, or that diesel cars are necessary to reduce CO2 emissions.

All good stuff. It means cleaner air for Europeans. It means more rainforests will be left standing because of less bad biofuels. It means less money flowing to all sorts of autocratic oil regimes, so more staying in Europe. It means Europe restoring its badly battered global reputation for clean transport.

This Commission, self-proclaimed to be the most political EU executive ever, has been amazingly unpolitical about this. It has fired a good starting gun for three years of hard fighting for our cause. It’s a good shot. The only pity is so few people have heard it.


Akos ERSEK's picture


This makes absolutely no sense.

Road tolls should pay for the cost of building, maintaining and operating roads, which should be priced factoring the weight, axle load and area occupied by a vehicle, not what kind of emission properties it has.
What externalities should be featured in road tolls?
- local pollution, (i.e. noise, rubber and brake lining powder, vibration), congestion (value charging)
How should CO2 (GHG) emissions and oil dependency be internalised?
- through a reformed European fuel (energy) taxation regime.
How should accidents be internalised?
- through a surcharge on compulsory third party insurance - which ought to be channeled into the social security and health insurance funds of national budgets.

Akos ERSEK's picture


The Annex of the paper contains the first written pledge of the Commission to deliver a proposal to revise the Combined Transport Directive (92/106), which would be essential to boost the ease of use and thus the competitiveness of the most productive solutions for inserting sustainable modes of transport into longer distance freight transport-chains: Intermodal or Combined Transport.
---THIS should be APPLAUDED!

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About the author

William Todts's picture

Executive Director