EU transport experts set the pace on integration

Working group fleshes out next steps towards environmentally sustainable transport system

Government officials from 14 EU countries plus Norway and Liechtenstein have recommended next steps towards a sustainable transport system. Four reports released this week build on EU transport ministers' draft strategy on integrating environmental considerations into transport policies (ENDS Daily 7 October 1999). The process will culminate in a comprehensive strategy to be submitted to EU leaders next June (ENDS Daily 13 December 1999).

In their draft strategy, transport ministers acknowledged large gaps between current trends and sustainability objectives and stressed internalisation of environmental costs as a key counter-measure. The intergovernmental expert group, which was chaired by European Commission officials, endorses both conclusions.

General economic instruments such as an EU-level carbon tax should play a key role, it says, but a wider range of instruments, including many transport-specific ones, are also needed. Due to subsidiarity concerns, the latter are unlikely to be binding on EU member states. More broadly, the group stresses the need for achieving "structural" change to alter people's behaviour.

To keep the integration process moving, the group recommends creation of a "monitor system". It also calls on the European Commission to identify quality objectives and targets as well as the need for long-term EU-level actions. While concluding that it remains too early to define quantitative targets, the group recommends a series of "priority actions to be started immediately". These include:

* intensified work on "fair and efficient pricing," including definition of a minimum carbon taxes to be applied to all transport modes; plus overcoming barriers to EU agreement on fiscal measures and elimination of fiscal incentives with negative effects;

* a new EU programme of information and communication on environmental issues "to raise awareness and make everybody more prepared for coming actions";

* better environmental classification of vehicles plus stricter regulation, to include emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) and other substances that might increase if carbon dioxide emissions are cut; development of standards and emission limits for alternative fuelled vehicles; introduction of in-vehicle instruments showing actual fuel consumption, and development of speed limiter technologies;

* greater scope under the EU's mineral oil directive for countries to differentiate taxes and charges on cleaner fuels, plus "urgent" agreement on a new system of vehicle charges differentiated by environmental performance;

* more powers for local authorities to decide on road pricing, plus promotion of cycling and walking in urban areas; acceleration of European Commission preparations for a green paper on "clean urban transport";

* more stringent aircraft noise regulations, plus strengthened EU action regarding the International Civil Aviation Organisation, including preparation for unilateral fuel taxes.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, the Commission's environment and transport web pages, and the expert group's main report.

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