Road transport: Europe's challenge to be clean, competitive and sustainable
Speech from Vice-President Siim Kallas, Commissioner for transport
Today I would like to address some of the challenges and constraints facing European road transport and how we can move to a cleaner, more sustainable model that will benefit both people and business. And thank you also to Scania for organising this useful conference.
We know the main problem areas: climate change, rising congestion and transport’s overdependence on oil as a power source. These are not going away. That is why we need to act now, to anticipate the changes before they happen.
Europe’s car and truck industry in particular is critically important to our economy - not only as a major producer and employer. It provides the means for millions of passengers to travel and many thousands of businesses to prosper.
As you know, I believe innovation and investment are the keys to maintaining competitiveness, to keep Europe's transport sector as much ahead of its rivals as possible. This is an area where Europe remains a global leader, at a time when we are losing out competitively in other areas.
In today's commercial world, we cannot afford to lag behind. In the automotive sector, Europe's position is world-class. And we clearly want to keep it that way.
A major problem is that we depend too much on oil for fuel, particularly in road transport. So it makes sense to research and develop innovative and cleaner alternatives.
We need energy-efficient technologies - electricity, hydrogen, natural gas, biogas, liquid biofuels - which can be produced from low-carbon or carbon-free sources, and then deployed in new-generation vehicles.
The European Union must also take this step to meet its wider targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. For this, transport, a major polluter, has to pull its weight because its emissions are not decreasing.
Around one-fifth of the EU's total emissions of carbon dioxide come from road transport, of which heavy goods vehicles account for around a quarter. Despite some improvements made in fuel consumption efficiency in recent years, HGV emissions are still rising, mainly due to increasing road freight traffic.
I am pleased to see that Europe’s automotive industry, which invests heavily in research and development, is setting a good example in this area.
Take the practice of truck ‘platooning’, which several European companies – including Scania – are now testing, turning an imaginative concept into reality.
Trucks travelling in convoy, or ‘platoon’, linked by smart communications with automatic speed and braking controls. Not only is this type of transport streamlined for saving energy, it will also help to improve road safety, driver comfort and make better use of road space.
Last year, 4,500 of the 35,000 fatal road accidents reported in the EU involved HGVs. With millions of trucks travelling on Europe’s roads every day, we must do everything we can to improve the situation.
Let me now describe what the European Commission is doing to tackle these important and difficult challenges.
Decarbonising transport lies at the heart of our plans for achieving sustainable smart growth and the transition to a resource-efficient economy, as set out in our White Paper on Transport last year.
In the Commission’s vision, a common underlying need is to make better use of energy efficiency to reduce emissions, throughout the transport chain – in infrastructure, fuels and vehicles.
More energy efficiency will lead to more sustainability.
Concretely, and by the end of this year, I will present a comprehensive strategy for alternative fuels: "Clean Power for Transport". One of the reasons for our almost total dependence on oil as a transport energy source is customers’ hesitation to buy alternative fuel vehicles because of the missing infrastructure for recharging and refuelling.
This initiative will develop a sustainable alternative fuel strategy for the EU. It will propose legislation on developing infrastructure, and also give a clear and coherent vision for helping to roll out alternative transport fuels.
Energy-efficient vehicles will boost our industry's competitiveness, make Europe's economy greener and more resource-efficient, as well as create jobs — all in line with our Europe 2020 strategy.
Then, on vehicles, we will propose revising the EU’s rules on maximum vehicle weights and dimensions. Since some of these rules date back to the 1980s, they need to be adapted to reflect more recent technological progress.
Apart from promoting the idea of combining different transport means to achieve better overall efficiency, the aim is to improve the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles (HGVs).
We can do this by helping to introduce improved vehicle aerodynamics that limit CO2 emissions and energy use.
For example, fuel savings of 6-12% at cruise speed can be achieved by reducing the aerodynamic drag of HGVs – such as by adding removable rear flaps. For this, we need to allow trucks to become more aerodynamic without reducing their loading capacity. And trailers too, since they commonly cause up to 50% of the air resistance associated with long-haul vehicles.
Let me now return to infrastructure, since it will not be possible to build a sustainable transport system without adequate and interconnected networks to act as the essential building blocks.
We are living on a densely populated continent and the network cannot expand indefinitely – not least, because it is too expensive to maintain.
Road congestion already today costs us the equivalent of 1% of GDP. It leads directly to poor air quality and noise exposure. And we know that urbanisation will continue; traffic in cities, on their access routes, will grow.
We also need to look again at road pricing. This is to ensure we encourage rational use of limited road space as well as to provide a source of long-term infrastructure funding as revenues decline from fuel excise duties. Road pricing plays a vital role in shaping more sustainable transport behaviour because it can give incentives to purchase and use cleaner vehicles.
Establishing an efficient trans-European transport network will also ensure the future sustainability of our transport networks by taking energy efficiency needs and climate change challenges into account.
National funds alone are not enough to make this happen. We need support at a wider EU level - which is why the Commission has proposed the Connecting Europe Facility.