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Transport sector targets environment at EU ‘Green Week’

The demand for mobility is increasing rapidly in Europe and around the globe, with far-reaching implications for citizens, businesses and the environment. On 1 June 2005, high-level personalities discussed how to clean up the transport sector while meeting the needs of people on the move.

Transport and environment session

Transport activities are a major contributor to environmental pollution and have an important impact on climate change, accounting for more than 25% of all CO 2 emissions. 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. Innovative solutions are now urgently needed to meet the Kyoto goal of replacing 30% of fossil fuel usage by 2020.

Research DG responds

Speaking at a special session on ‘the environmental challenge of global transport’ at the EU’s annual ‘Green Week’, in Brussels, Jack Metthey, Director of the Commission’s Research Directorate-General, said, “The Research DG can be a solution provider on the transport front. In fact, ‘the greening of transport’ has been one of our central leitmotifs.

Jack Metthey, Director of the Commission’s Research Directorate-General
Jack Metthey

“Through the establishment of our transport Technology Platforms, we are bringing together all of the important players in the transport sector. Working with industry, the research community, European and national institutions and regulatory agencies, and with the community of users, we are defining ambitious goals for environmental performance, safety and competitiveness, and we are developing Strategic Research Agendas that will address fundamental and long-term needs within the different transport modes.

“We have now reached a critical mass,” said Metthey, “in terms of financial and political support and we now expect to see an increasing rate of introduction and application of new technologies. Supporting research projects and initiatives of common European interest is what we are all about. We want cleaner cars, boats, trains and airplanes and we need a more balanced spread of mobility across the transport modes and better systems for connecting these modes in a seamless pan-European transport network.”

EU research taking the lead

  • Atmospheric pollution
    The quality of the air in urban environments is severely affected by vehicle pollutants, resulting in major public health concerns. Meanwhile, maritime transport accounts for more than 40% of global sulphur oxide emissions, a major contributor to acid rain.
    EU-funded research is focusing on advanced engine technologies with emphasis on combustion, onboard electronics and hybrid drivers; new power-trains based on alternative and renewable fuels, including fuel cells and hydrogen; and innovative low mass materials and structures.
  • Recycling
    The EU has set itself the ambitious target of recycling 95% of automobile parts and materials. The challenge is to develop integrated technologies that are economically viable for both metal and plastic components. Research is addressing the development of technologies and systems to enable safe, clean and efficient recycling of all manner of vehicle.
  • Noise pollution
    The quality of life of many Europeans in both urban and rural settings is seriously affected by noise from transport systems. Research is addressing active and passive cost-effective noise control, minimising the negative effects of noise, and objective measurement of noise annoyance.

Road transport and environment

Charlemagne building, Brussels
Green Week opens its doors

Currently, transport accounts for 32% of Europe’s energy consumption and 28% of total CO 2 emissions. However, it is expected to be responsible for 90% of the forecast increase in CO 2 emissions between 1990 and 2010. Without radical change, road transport will be one of the main reasons for Europe’s failure to meet its Kyoto commitments.

In its Green Paper on Security of Energy Supply, the European Commission sounded the alarm on Europe’s dependency on imported fossil fuels, a third of which are used by transport. The EU also has deep concerns about the environment. As a signatory to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, it is committed to reducing emissions of six greenhouse gases by 8% of the 1990 level by 2008-2012. However, if current trends continue, emissions will actually go up by 40% compared with 1990 levels, due to increased road and air traffic.

The search for innovative solutions

Speaking at the Green Week transport session, Giles Merrit, Secretary General of Friends of Europe, posed the question of how to provide economic incentives for clean transport. Tax incentives are one solution, imposing charges on travellers as a means of curbing pollution, but Dorette Corbey, Member of the European Parliament, said that approach only goes so far. “We have to get the consumers, the drivers, more involved. They have to be allowed to choose.” Among her suggestions was the introduction of environmental labelling, providing information to consumers on the ‘ecological footprints’ of the vehicles they purchase as well as other options such as public transport. “This would increase public awareness, giving people the means for making the right choice and it would stimulate competition between manufacturers and between transport modes,” said Corbey.

Volvo’s Stefan Lorentzon outlined a comprehensive approach to cleaner transport, including:

  • Harmonisation of emission levels;
  • Investment in infrastructure to alleviate costly bottlenecks;
  • Increasing EU support for transport research, including increased funding for the next Framework Programme;
  • Better connectivity between different transport systems.

“Our industry is part of the problem,” admitted Lorentzon, “but we can also be part of the solution. Our challenge to Europe is to find ways to combine the technical expertise of those of us in industry together with the strong political will of the EU to find new solutions to the problem of climate change.”

The Green Week initiative

Climate change is happening. Over the past century the average temperature has risen by more than 0.6° Celsius globally and by almost 1°C in Europe. An overwhelming majority of the world's climate experts now believe most of this warming is being caused by human activities, especially CO 2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Get to grips with climate change’ was the slogan for this year's Green Week, the European Commission's annual conference programme and exhibition showcasing EU environment policy. Some 200 speakers and 4000 participants from Europe and around the world were invited to 20 conferences, workshops and talks exploring different aspects of climate change, from 31 May to 3 June 2005.

"Climate change is one of our biggest environmental challenges and a major threat to our economies," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas at the Green Week opening. “Our aim in bringing together key players and stakeholders during Green Week is not only to listen but also to try to move towards workable and cost-effective solutions, particularly in view of the further efforts that will be needed to achieve global reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Green Week 2005 looked at all aspects of climate change and in particular at the human factor. “Our way of life, production, consumption and transport need to change if we want to halt global warming,” said Dimas.