Talks begin on transport and health treaty

European charter sets environment and health targets, could include legally binding commitments

European government officials last week launched talks on a charter to tackle the health effects of pollution and other aspects of transport. A first draft of the treaty was presented by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which co-hosted the meeting in Vienna with the Austrian environment ministry.

The "European charter for transport, environment and health" is due to be adopted by 52 countries at a ministerial meeting in London next summer. A working group set up in Vienna with government representatives from 15 countries will further develop the draft and will decide whether some of its resolutions should be made legally binding.

According to a WHO official, Francesca Racioppi, the first draft proposes several types of targets that could be set to alleviate the health impacts of transport. These include cutting air pollution, noise and accident rates and increasing the amount of walking and cycling done by the population.

In addition to setting targets, the first draft proposes that new methods be sought for quantifying the "external" health costs of transport, not only to include accidents and the effects of pollution but also the health benefits forgone by people not choosing "active" transport - walking and cycling. At the conference, the head of the European Commission's transport directorate said the external costs of transport in the EU had been estimated at up to Ecu260bn a year.

The charter follows another pan-European accord on transport and environment policy - the Vienna Charter, signed by ministers at a United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) conference last year (ENDS Daily 13 November 1997). This also called for the closer integration of the two policy areas and made a commitment to consider health issues.

Ms Racioppi said the difference with the WHO charter is that it will focus specifically on health aspects. "There has been a lot of co-operation between environment and transport sectors but health problems have not been considered. [This] charter makes the point that there should be a better integration of health into transport and the environment."

The London ministerial next June will be the third in a series of five-yearly WHO conferences on environment and health. Together with the transport treaty, ministers are also expected to adopt a protocol on water and health.

Follow Up:
WHO, tel: +39 6 487 751.

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