NGOs criticise pan-European transport plan

Draft Vienna declaration fails to tackle traffic growth, says activist coalition

A coalition representing more than 50 health, transport, industry and environmental NGOs has criticised European transport and environment ministers for failing to propose binding commitments to tackle transport growth ahead of a major conference on transport and the environment to be held in Vienna later this week.

The Regional Conference on Transport and the Environment is being organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE). It is being billed as the first ever pan-European meeting of transport and environment ministers and the first conference to follow up commitments made at the Earth Summit in 1992 for different sectors.

According to the UN/ECE, the conference will define environmental goals for the transport sector and ways to reach them, solve transport environmental problems in central and eastern European countries and promote less polluting public transport.

At a pre-conference meeting in Vienna yesterday, NGOs branded a draft ministerial declaration that has been developed over the last months as containing "all the right words" but giving "no guarantee of action". The draft declaration and action programme are "in no way binding, do not indicate the main actors and lack a timetable for implementation," the NGOs declared in a statement.

Reducing the "unrelenting" growth in transport is only "fleetingly mentioned" in the conference papers, the groups said, and they called on ministers to agree binding targets and timetables to tackle it. "It is impossible to reach environmentally sustainable transport without addressing the issue of growing transport demand," according to the coalition.

Coordinated by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), the coalition also criticised certain countries for opposing some of the more controversial aspects of the draft declaration. According to official notes on the draft declaration, Belgium, France, Ireland and Russia are opposed to calling for an international tax on aviation fuel; Greece, Italy and Spain are resisting calls for stricter measures to protect environmentally sensitive areas; and Romania is unwilling to support a call for transport and economic growth to be decoupled.

On a more positive note, T&E's director Gijs Kuneman told ENDS Daily that the UN/ECE conference "might speed up awareness raising by 10 years" in central and eastern European countries. In the preparatory work for the meeting, Mr Kuneman said, countries such as Russia had "gone from being obstructive to constructive" within two years.

Follow Up:
UN/ECE, tel: +41 22 917 4444; Transport and Environment, tel: +32 2 502 9909.

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