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A European vision for sustainable transport

Researchers, policy-makers and other stakeholders assembled in Lyon to hammer out a vision for sustainable transport in the context of the 2020 vision for the European Research Area.

Road traffic © Peter Gutierrez
Europe moving forward
© Peter Gutierrez

The transport sector has a major environmental impact and a large carbon footprint. Currently, transport accounts for 32% of Europe’s energy consumption and 28% of its total CO 2 emissions. In addition, by 2010, it is expected to have accounted for 90% of the forecast increase in CO 2 emissions since 1990 (for more on transport and CO 2, see COM(98) 204external link).

Without radical change, road transport will be one of the main reasons for Europe’s failure to meet its Kyoto commitments. It has been estimated that traffic-related pollution costs Europe 1.7% of its GDP, approximately €160 billion per year or €360 per year for every citizen. So, it makes economic sense, as well as in terms of public health, to make transportation more environmentally friendly.

Making transport more sustainable without hurting Europe’s economic well-being and the freedom of its citizens requires research to create new knowledge and the application of this knowledge into innovative solution, especially if the EU is to meet its Kyoto goal of replacing 30% of fossil fuel usage by 2020.

The transport priority of the Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7, 2007-2013) seeks "to develop ‘safer, greener and smarter‘ pan-European transport systems that will benefit all citizens, respect the environment, and increase the competitiveness of European industries in the global market”. The EU is focusing research efforts on combating atmospheric pollution by developing advanced engine technologies and reducing emissions, developing integrated technologies to recycle 95% of automobile parts and materials, as well as active and passive cost-effective noise control.

A new ERA in transport research

In December 2008, the European Council, along with the Commission, adopted a common vision for deepening and further developing the European Research Area (ERA) by 2020. The ERA seeks to overcome the fragmentation of European R&D by building better trans-border and cross-disciplinary links, as well as enhancing collaboration between academia and industry.

“By 2020, all actors [will] fully benefit from the ‘Fifth Freedom’ across the ERA: free circulation of researchers, knowledge and technology. The ERA provides attractive conditions and effective and efficient governance for doing research and investing in R&D intensive sectors in Europe,” they said in their vision paper.

Later that month, researchers, policy-makers, industry representatives and other stakeholders in the surface transport community assembled in Lyon (FR), under the auspices of the French presidency and hosted by INRETS, the French national institute for transport and security research, to discuss, among other things, the implications of the 2020 vision of the ERA for transport research in the context of climate change.

András Siegler © Peter Gutierrez
András Siegler
© Peter Gutierrez

“Transport is one of the Europe's major strengths, and must remain one of its priorities. An efficient transport system is a fundamental condition for sustainable development, wealth and prosperity in Europe,” said András Siegler, Director of the European Commission’s DG RTD Transport Directorate. “Transport is facing another tough challenge: the reduction of its impact on the environment. Rapid innovative solutions through breakthrough research are urgently needed.”

Gazing into the future

The gathering explored issues relating to scientific governance, the major challenges facing surface transport research, and discussed a course for the future of transport research. The participants also adopted a Lyon Declaration on the 2020 vision.

Siegler updated the participants on the current state of play at the Commission. “Commission services and all programme committees are currently revisiting priorities for the next period. This is done in consultation with the European technology platforms... Recommendations from all stakeholders are also welcome,” he explained.

The updated work programmes will focus on three main priorities: major reductions in emissions, boosting European competitiveness through eco-innovation, and the deepening of ERA.

Declarations of intent

The Lyon Declaration adopted by the gathering was a powerful statement of intent from the European surface research community. “We consider surface transport-related research and expertise to be of crucial relevance to tackling the grand challenges of energy, climate change, globalisation, ICT, and the ageing population faced by society, the economy and policy-makers,” the declaration stated. “We will address together the necessity of further developing dialogue between research and society, specifically the societal relevance of scientific expertise, and ethical and deontological rules.”

“I wish that this kind of event can be replicated with the regular introduction of the European Week of Research in Transport,” said Michèle Pappalardo of the French presidency. The proposed European Week would be a regular event aiming to create a forum for Europe’s transport scientific community to discuss the research process and governance, and to reach out to other stakeholders.

The focus on transport research will not waver during the Czech and Swedish presidencies, in the first and second halves of 2009 respectively, representatives of the two governments assured.

As a sign of this commitment, the Czech Republic is organising a European Transport Research and Innovation Week, from 11 to 15 May 2009 in the city of Brno. “The objective of this European meeting will be, in the spirit of the Lyon Declaration accepted here, the further deepening of mutual co-operation and the strengthening of transport research,” explained Czech Deputy Transport Minister Petr ┼álegr.

“Vision 2020 for the European Research Area was endorsed by the European Council... This is a significant step forward,” noted Hans Ingvarsson of the Swedish Road Administration. “Future Presidencies are invited to take this vision into consideration. Sweden will also do so the second half of 2009, with special emphasis on further development of the governance of the European Research Area.”