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To start reducing emissions by transport sector, develop a single market and empower local government  

EU's cities and regions say wide-ranging changes are needed if emissions in a critically important sector of the economy are finally to fall.

European Commission plans intended to reduce Europe's stubbornly high use of climate-changing fuels in its transport system are neither clear enough nor ambitious enough, the European Committee of the Regions argues in a set of recommendations adopted on 5 July.

The EU's assembly for local and regional politicians adopted its report on low-emission mobility shortly before Miguel Arias Cañete , the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, used a keynote speech at a CoR plenary session to outline the EU's new ambitions for climate action, which include recent agreements to ensure that, by 2030, 32% of the energy used in the EU comes from renewable energy and to increase energy efficiency by 32.5% (against a 1990 benchmark). The CoR has long argued that the EU is far too lacking in ambition – its wants emissions cut by 50% by 2030, compared with the EU's recently raised target of 40% – and has promoted the development of an EU urban agenda with clean transport as a central issue.

"Transport is the one area where the EU has made no progress in reducing emissions," said Michiel Scheffer (NL/ALDE), member of the executive council of the Province of Gelderland and rapporteur for the opinion on ' delivering on low-emission mobility '. "Transport accounts for almost a fifth of Europe's climate-changing emissions, yet it is the only sector whose emissions have not fallen since 1990. This is intolerable as well as unsustainable; public concern about pollution is rising, and radical changes are needed fast. So I am more concerned with how we can scale up the market for clean transport technologies rapidly and with the quality of the EU's legislative proposals than its headline targets."

The EU's aim is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from transport by at least 60% by 2050, compared with 1990.

Mr Scheffer commented: "Recent proposals from the Commission on alternative fuels and clean vehicles as part of the ' clean mobility package ' have to change the status quo dramatically. The Commission's strategic thinking, its commitment and its guidance are good, but it lacks the ambition needed to tackle emissions from private transport and there are many details in the proposals that fail to empower cities and regions in their battle to provide green transport. Local transport is an area where much of the responsibility lies with municipal and regional politicians, so it is crucially important that the Commission responds to these proposals. But we also need a single market. For example, lorries that run on alternative fuels need to be able to re-fuel en route from the Netherlands to Romania. That type of cross-border inter-operability requires a European single market and European action. Good re-fuelling options will help establish a large market for green transport, and the resulting economies of scale will, in turn, lower costs for local and regional governments."

Mr Scheffer continued: "We share common aims – cleaner air, and cleaner seas, smoother traffic, and a well-balanced set of cycling, road, rail and shipping options for citizens and businesses. We also have a good base and important competitive advantages: Europe is also a world leader in transport innovation, digitisation and decarbonisation of the economy. What we need now is the critical mass to develop a thriving market for green transport. An integrated approach is good policy and good politics."

The CoR's recommendations offer a vision of transport system that integrates public and private services and whose impact on the climate is considered from the point of manufacture to the point of recycling. More so than in current Commission proposals, the CoR's recommendations promote regulatory criteria that would reflect quality, safety, social inclusion, and the diversity of regional conditions, rather than purely economically quantifiable criteria.

Further liberalisation of bus markets was a particular issue, with groups within the CoR warning that the Commission proposals risked the economic equilibrium of public-transport service contracts. This could be at the expense of public transport operators. Services of general economic interest, such as public transport in cities and regions, are closely linked to the EU's principle of subsidiarity, the principle that decisions should be taken at the level that is both the most effective and closest to citizens.

The concerns of particular regions were reflected, notably with support for amendments made by politicians from outlying regions and with compromises struck with politicians from Scandinavia who argued that greater consideration should be given to biofuels.

The challenge of accelerating the emergence of a green-transport market was evident in discussions about whether more public funding is needed achieve the transition to clean transport. Representatives of a range of cities and regions raised concerns that the European Commission's plans are too optimistic about private funding, despite the swelling private investment in clean fuels. The opinion argues that, overall, the EU needs to increase funding for local authorities that are 'early adopters' of clean technology.

Mr Scheffer last year authored proposals intended to fill in missing transport links in border regions , and he will later this year set out ideas to improve trans-European transport links.


Andrew Gardner
Tel. +32 473 843 981