Pan-European transport principles agreed

Transport, environment ministers sign declaration at "milestone" Vienna conference

Transport and environment ministers from more than 40 European countries have today committed themselves to work towards more sustainable transport policies at a major conference on transport and environment in Vienna.

In a declaration formally signed this evening, ministers promised to "integrate the principles of sustainable development in their transport policies" and to reduce transport to sustainable levels.

In speech after speech today, ministers and other senior figures described present transport trends in Europe as unsustainable and called for "radical" measures to deal with the problems. EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock said that "the present course is leading to unsustainable immobility" and the "need for urgent and substantial change to reverse these trends is abundantly clear".

Organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), the conference - which ends tomorrow - is the first time that transport and environment ministers from across Europe have met to discuss environmental problems caused by transport and its growth. Head of the UN/ECE Yves Berthelot told ministers that "the problem has never been dealt with in such numbers and at such a high level."

Although the declaration adopted tonight is not legally binding, it sets out a number of principles for sustainable transport policies and contains a programme of joint action to put the principles into practice. The UN/ECE describes the two documents as "a milestone of a new era for regional cooperation in the field of transport and environment".

The declaration asserts "the desirability of decoupling...transport demand and economic growth". It also calls for the promotion of land-use policies which minimise transport growth, for the external costs of transport to be internalised, for a modal shift from air and road transport to rail, and for an international tax on aviation fuel to be "explored".

Sounding a note of discord, Danish environment minister Svend Auken said that the declaration was "longer in words than in action". For example, for over 90% of the actions proposed, no lead actor has been identified. Environmental groups said today that the declaration risked losing credibility if its principles weren't implemented (ENDS Daily 11 November).

Slovenian environment minister Pavel Gantar said that the "destiny of the documents is dependent on the follow-up. Only by producing concrete targets will [they] be effective." Mr Gantar stressed that, to achieve sustainable transport, emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides would have to be cut by 90% between 1990 and 2010, while carbon dioxide emissions would have to be cut by 80%. Several other senior speakers said that reductions on this scale would be politically impractical.

Follow Up:
UN/ECE, tel: +41 22 917 4444.

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