Sowing the seeds of smarter transport policy

by Jos Dings - T&E Director

Did we miss something? Last year, the European Commission didn’t propose a single new legislative measure to clean up transport. To be fair, it has been spending most of its time worrying about the future of the Eurozone. As a result, for T&E this was the sort of year where seeds for smarter transport policy were sown. We’re optimistic that next year could bring a decent crop of positive changes.

2011 will be a crucial year for biofuels. A year ago, decision-makers were in a state of denial about the indirect effects of biofuel production on land-use change. One of the positive developments in recent months is the realisation that failure to take these effects seriously could lead to more environmental damage than if fossil fuels were used. Our work, highlighting the science of indirect land use change, not to mention ongoing legal action against the Commission to make publicly funded studies on the issue public, has helped bring wider attention to the problem and the Commission has promised action by next Summer.

The Commission has also promised to give high-carbon oil sources such as tar sands a specific ‘default value’ in the fuel quality directive. Fuel suppliers will still be able to market fuels derived from tar sands in Europe, but they will have a much harder time hitting their climate targets. Given that the EU often acts as a pace-setter for standards elsewhere, investors will then take carbon risk much more seriously when deciding on high-carbon oil projects. It is not for nothing that Canada is lobbying so hard for Brussels not to include such a ‘default value’. The Commission initially supported specific tar sand values, then dropped them. T&E, along with partners and members, has helped keep it on the agenda for next year.

There has been modest progress on the Eurovignette directive, with a good chance of agreement in 2011 to allow inclusion of at least some external costs in lorry road tolls. As Bulletin went to press, there was an agreement limiting CO2 emissions from vans, but sadly one that looks like business as usual rather than real change.

A new EU white paper on transport policy is also scheduled for late winter. The paper cannot ignore the call from José Manuel Barroso that the transport sector should be decarbonised. The question is whether the challenge will be tackled with more lofty words or real commitments.

There are grounds for optimism on the international scene too. Despite the fact that Cancun made zero progress on aviation and shipping, we could see important developments in these sectors. As our front-page article shows, it is possible that IMO will adopt a globally binding energy-efficiency standard for ships; the first of its kind. It is badly needed – the environmental performance of ships is very poor, as technological gains have been directed towards greater engine power (where have we seen this before?). An agreement in shipping could kick-start action on aviation.

2011 will also be the year when electric cars will hit Europe’s roads in more than symbolic numbers. Of course they will not solve all transport’s problems, but they are an indicator of the change that is brewing in the car industry. Serious investment is taking place into more efficient conventional cars and radically different cars, all with a view to hitting 95g/km by 2020. The more that happens, the more the leading players will not want their investment to go waste.

Next year we might also see President Barroso having the guts to propose a review of the energy tax directive. The case is so strong. The euro badly needs more fiscal coordination. Fuel taxes are much smarter environmentally and economically than taxes on, say, labour, but they have decreased by 10 cents a litre in the past decade (when corrected for inflation). Even worse, the current law still makes it illegal to tax kerosene and fuel for shipping and fisheries. Fixing these issues should be a no-brainer.

Finally, the next EU budget will be agreed in 2011. We hope to see a move away from unaffordable mega infrastructure projects, and a drive for smarter ideas in transport. EU cofinancing for road charging schemes or upgrading commuter rail would be smarter than more bridges to nowhere.

Eternal optimists as we are, we will continue to campaign on these issues. And we’ll keep on planting the seeds for smart ideas. In the meantime, may I wish you a very happy festive season and a lot of inspiration for change in 2011.