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Road transport Technology Platform ERTRAC lays down gauntlet on climate change

Transport already accounts for a large proportion of greenhouse emissions, and the number of kilometres travelled by road continues to increase, leading some to call for a radical rethink of current road transport research strategies. At a major ERTRAC conference in Brussels on 26 September 2007, road transport stakeholders discussed the way forward.

ERTRAC conference
ERTRAC draws wide interest

András Siegler,Director of the European Commission’s DG RTD Transport Directorate, said, “Road transport represents a major source of industrial activity, economic revenue, employment, knowledge and technological development in Europe, but the demand for transport is constantly growing, and can no longer be sustained by the environment and available energy sources.

“Road transport is our largest source of transport greenhouse gases. The passenger car is still the preferred mode of transport of people and lorries are still the preferred mode of transport for freight. These cars and lorries clog our roads and cities, and the ensuing congestion worsens the emissions problem.”

András Siegler
András Siegler

ERTRAC Chairman Rudy Kunze defined the situation in scientific terms, laying out a range of data showing alarming trends in transport, energy use and emissions; in spite of recent efforts, greenhouse gases and average temperature continue to rise, fossil fuel consumption continues to rise, and Europe’s dependence on foreign sources for energy continues to rise. Meanwhile, said Kunze, “our planet is already showing the effects of climate change, with the cost of weather-related catastrophes increasing tenfold in the past 50 years.”

New solutions?

Kunze called for clearer thinking on the matter. Some obvious remedies are simply not being considered, he suggested. “This morning, I walked out of my hotel room, and immediately contributed to global warming by taking a taxi to this meeting. One will ask, ‘but why didn’t you take public transport?’ The answer is because I simply didn’t know how. Why can’t we do something to help people in this kind of situation? We are not thinking about simple and obvious things that could make a big difference to the way people behave with respect to daily transportation.”

Rudy Kunze
Rudy Kunze

Günter Hörmandinger of the Commission’s Environment Directorate-General also cited basic behavioural changes that are not being exploited. Referring to the concept of ‘eco-driving’, whereby simple changes in driving practices can save large amounts of energy, he said, “We know that these are straightforward modifications that we can make that will contribute enormously to our response to climate change, so why are people not making these changes? This is also a question for researchers, for all of us.”

For the European Commission, concerted action remains a key concept. “A systemic approach linking vehicles, infrastructure and users, and their interactions, is necessary to solve this problem,” said András Siegler. “Researching systems is essential to implement ‘intelligent road transport technologies’. This means maximising the capacity of road transport infrastructure, improving links between different transport modes, optimising traffic flows, integrated safety solutions, and developing new mobility systems for urban environments.”

ERTRAC still leads the way

The European Road Transport Advisory Council (ERTRAC) was established in 2003 and immediately moved forward with impressive speed. Its Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), delivered just one year after ERTRAC’s launch, lays the groundwork for future road research and has been a major guide in the formulation of the transport work programme of the Union’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). Major priorities include the ‘greening’ of transport, strengthening competitiveness and efficiency, and responding to the increasing demand for mobility and higher safety standards.

The conference in Brussels featured presentations from EC policy-makers, all of whom spoke of increasing co-operation among the various Commission services.

European Automotive Research Partners Association (EARPA) Chairman Helmut List headed a session featuring national perspectives, with representatives from Austria, Greece and Sweden presenting their countries’ views on road transport and climate change.

Finally, a panel discussion led by Manual Battista of ‘World Highways’ tackled future trends in road transport.