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Commission takes on climate change and road transport

The European Commission has made the 'greening' of transport a major priority and that focus was clear when EC representatives addressed participants at this year's TRA conference in Ljubljana.

András Siegler © Peter Gutierrez
András Siegler
© Peter Gutierrez

Transport is a major contributor to environmental pollution, now accounting for more than 25% of all CO 2 emissions and making a real impact on the world's climate.

Speaking at the TRA 2008 plenary session on climate change, Director of the European Commission’s DG RTD Transport Directorate András Siegler said, “Climate change and pollution have become overriding factors in the road transport industry. Even consumers are now pushing this move. The social cost of pollution is exorbitant, representing at least 1% of European GDP."

Siegler cited a number of EU-funded projects now underway aimed at improving the environmental performance of European road transport. The 'NICE' project, for example, he said, led by industrial partners, is developing a new integrated combustion system that, independent of the type of fuel, achieves the highest fuel conversion efficiency.

Call for leadership

"The NICE project is just one example where the European automotive industry has been proactive," said Siegler, "taking responsibility and leading the way on road transport and pollution. But setting the research agenda requires an even wider consultation process, involving industry and policy makers as well as the research community.

Fotis Karamitsos of the Commission's Directorate-General for Energy and Transport said, "European industrial research has, in the past, been repetitive. Today we are working hard to maximise the benefits of our research expenditure. We need to make the fullest use of our limited resources here in Europe, and that means better coordination of efforts."

Karamitsos referred to the 'SESAR' initiative, central to the modernisation of European air traffic control infrastructure. Initiated by air traffic management equipment manufacturers, SESAR now has the support of the entire air transport community and will encompass all technological, economic and regulatory elements. "We need to see similar initiatives, with industry taking a leading role, in all of the transport sectors," he said, "including rail, maritime and road transport."

Funding innovation

Under the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7), the European Union is committed to reducing environmental and noise pollution, including:

  • Reducing greenhouse gases through technological and socio-economic means
  • Development of clean and efficient engines and power-trains including hybrid technologies
  • Use of alternative fuels for transport applications, in particular hydrogen and fuel cells
  • Taking account of cost-efficiency and energy-efficiency considerations
  • Developing end-of-life strategies for vehicles and vessels.

The TRA 2008 conference in Slovenia was aimed at promoting these and other priorities among the wider road transport community, bringing together over 1200 delegates and featuring major presentations by high-level decision makers, leading-edge researchers and top industrial players.

And widening the scope

"We are making progress," said Siegler, "but even the brightest results will not lead the kind of change we need without a wider scope for innovation. New technological solutions are clearly important, but we also need to come up with new ways of organising ourselves, and of getting new technologies onto the market as quickly as possible."

As in the road safety arena, behaviour was also cited as an often overlooked key to better environmental performance. Karamitsos said, "We still have work to do in changing attitudes and behaviour, both within the industry and among users."

And again, Siegler: "Transport is a complex system. The regulatory push is important, but cannot forget the systemic view, which must also address the behaviour of drivers."