Bridging the gap - How to integrate land transport into Post 2012?

07. April 2009 zur Übersicht

Speech at the Side event at the Seventh session of the AWG-KP and fifth session of the AWG-LCA




Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to express my sincere thanks for the invitation to attend the conference and for the privilege of giving the speech here today. You have picked up a topic of high significance that is - unfortunately - usually regarded with too little attention by politics: the role of trans-port in climate change. I would therefore like to thank not only for having me but also for ad-dressing the problem transport causes in this respect.It is true that until recently no other subject has preoccupied politics, the economy and soci-ety like climate change. Many studies - starting with the Stern report in autumn 2006 - have been published, many shocking news have alarmed politics. But despite all new awareness and all declarations of good intent I fear that still too little action is undertaken.

Now, facing a major turn down of the world economy, chances for an ambitious approach to tackle climate change seem even less probable.

I hope that awareness will rise until Copenhagen that we cannot allow a slowing down or even a pause in climate protection policy. The downswing of the world economy may not be an excuse for no action. On the contrary: when if not now will we find better conditions to transform our high-carbon-economies into low-carbon-economies.

Public funding for more efficiency seems easier than ever in the light of the billions allocated in world wide recovery plans. This applies especially for the transport sector where invest-ments for public transport, railways and more efficiency of all modes are highly necessary.

However, it is once again the transport sector that seems to miss the chance of tackling both, economic downfall and climate challenges in a common approach. With their rescue plans for the automobile industry most governments grant support without including the key green idea of conditioning the public aid to the car industry to environmental commitments. This strategy is doomed to fail!

The experience with saving the coal mines from closing down in this particular region of Ger-many, North Rhine-Westphalia, proofs everyone wrong who wants to save smokestack in-dustries with public money. It was highly expensive for the taxpayers, it was not sustainable and it didn't save jobs in the long run. Let us not make the same mistake again! [see slide 2]
The transport sector is a key sector when it comes to climate change.

Emissions of this pol-lutant have increased by 30 per cent since 1990. In air transport they have doubled. In the same period other sectors have reduced their emissions in average by 10 per cent. In the EU, mobility causes just under 30% of all CO2 emissions, and as much as 40% in towns and cities. And if you look at all climate damaging emissions, the transport sector in cities is re-sponsible for 70 percent.

Food transport has doubled in the last 20 years, and heavy traffic on German roads has tri-pled since the 1980s. Between 1993 and 2000 the number of air passengers in the EU rose by around 10% a year. Traffic increases are also a reason why emissions of CO2, with its devastating effects on the climate, have not fallen but have risen by at least 1% a year be-tween 2000 and 2004.
These numbers should be alarming as it will be impossible to lower emissions significantly without changing the way we move. However, political action lacks back on two levels: Firstly Transport is neglected in the existing climate protection agreements such as Kyoto or the EU Climate Package.

This applies - strangely enough - mainly for the climate-damaging modes of transport such as road and air traffic. The mistake of Kyoto is perpetuated in EU legislation. The legislation on effort sharing of emissions from non-ETS sectors, such as transport, allows the outsourc-ing of over 80% of the emissions reductions through external offsetting. buying 'credits' in emissions reduction projects in developing countries.

The original proposal by EU commission and Parliament wanted to keep this number as low as 20 per cent to make sure that EU member states have to achieve domestic reductions. The insistence by member states on a higher provision seriously undermines EU climate leg-islation. The Greens could not accept this neocolonial approach to climate policy, which would allow rich European countries to continue their own unsustainable development model at the expense poorer developing countries.

Secondly Transport in Europe is too cheap - it is only the environmentally friendly options that are too expensive. This is not constitutional, it is political will that created this framework. Consequently, the modal shift of traffic from the roads to the railways is thwarted by the fra-mework conditions: large subsidies for the climate culprits motor vehicles and aeroplanes, yet more and more new barriers and burdens for the railways. Consequently, transport con-tinues to grow, and nullifies the expensive emission reductions achieved in other sectors. This makes a convincing case for a sea change in transport.

The problem can be simply illustrated by the example of a yoghurt pot. By the time it has reached supermarket shelves, a strawberry yoghurt has travelled almost 10 000 km on our roads. And despite its long journey, it only costs around 40 Eurocents. Prawns from Scandi-navia are peeled in Morocco before they reach plates in Stockholm, London or Oslo. Al-though transport has a high cost for the environment and thus for the public - on the road and in the air - it is not a cost factor for business.

The result is an ever growing transport sector. How transport increases without a significant benefit is clearly demonstrated by the following example: Great Britain imports exactly as much porc meat every year as it exports - 5 million tonnes. [see slide 3]

As you can see in the present slide [see slide 4]: as a result of this framework the share of road transport has been rising. Railways lost share to only 16 percent in 2005. Today it is even lower at about 14 percent. While politicians continue to preach solar and wind power but consume oil, they are bound to fail.

The railways are indisputably among the most environmentally friendly means of mobility. As such, they should actually be encouraged and supported, but the opposite is the case.

In the EU it is mandatory for tolls to be levied on all trains on all rail tracks in the form of route prices. And yet for its keenest and most polluting competitor, road transport, however, tolls are charged mostly only on motorways and as a rule only for lorries above 12 tonnes. There is an upper limit on these tolls, external costs may not currently be internalised, and toll char-ging is voluntary for the member states.

Poland and Slovakia have the highest rail tolls for freight transport, while the roads are toll-free or nearly toll-free. The EU Parliament has now adopted the so called Eurovignette III in the First Reading. It finally allows Members States to internalise external cost for noise and pollution in road pricing. [see slide 5]

It is a first tiny step in the right direction but since upper limits keep on holding the real costs down road transport will remain highly subsidised by tax payers. It is not surprising that freight transport in particular is at home on Europe’s roads. Incidentally, the United States, the land of the highway, is an example to us here, with 40% of freight being transported by rail as opposed to the EU’s pitiful 17%.

Switzerland has demonstrated how this situation can be changed. Its lorry toll, which applies to all lorries on all roads and, following a further increase, is five times higher than in Ger-many, has resulted in the transfer of petroleum transport, for example, back from the roads to the railways. Before the introduction of the tolls, 70% of petroleum was carried by road, whe-reas now 70% goes by rail.

There has been no shift in Switzerland from motorways to other major roads, nor from larger to smaller lorries. And consumer costs still rose by only 0.5%. There really is no more cost-effective way to fight climate change.

The situation with air transport is also anachronistic. When I fly from Berlin to Brussels air-lines can offer their price without taking taxes for kerosene or VAT for the ticket into account. Railways on the other hand have to increase the price for their ticket by both taxes.

The tax exemption for kerosene - introduced more than half a century ago as a financial bo-ost to help the infant air transport industry get started - currently permits airlines to transport their customers at a ‘taxi price’ between major European cities. As a result, not only their competitors, the taxpaying railways, fall by the wayside, but also the climate, which suffers in the extreme as a result of booming air transport. Aircraft emissions in the stratosphere are three to four times more harmful than those of industry and ground transport.
Yet air transport is still exempted from the emissions trading system, while the railways are included in the system via the electricity price. The inclusion of aviation in emission trading from 2012 onwards is once again a rather small step in the right direction but far away from reflecting the real dimension of the problem.

In addition to a strict ETS for aviation we plead for the introduction of a European climate-protection tax on aviation fuel. The revenue of 14 Billion € a year is necessary for the funding of international rail connections. [see slide 6]
Let me please conclude with a few words on the importance of Urban Transport. 80 per cent of the citizens of the EU live in cities. As mentioned before: the transport sector is here re-sponsible for 70 percent of all climate damaging emissions. Urban transport therefore is a key when it comes to tackling the problem.

Urban Transport has an enormous potential in order to reduce emissions: 90 per cent of all car journeys in German cities for instance are shorter than 6 kilometres - distances that can easily be shifted to urban transport systems, biking and walking. You see how much the use of bikes differs among EU countries. The EU Commission was once of the same opinion and initially wanted to present an Action Plan on Urban Mobility by the end of last year. Political pressure from Member States - one of the frontrunners was unfortunately Germany - stopped the Commission's ambitions. It is now only the European Parliament that calls for action.

Yesterday a draft report has been adopted by the Transport Committee that urges the EU to take action. It is true that the possibilities of action taken on EU level are rather limited.

One key issue though is the financing: the EU finally needs means to limit their support to environmental friendly modes of transport.

So far it is up to the Member States to decide how the EU co-financing is invested. The result is an alarming unbalance towards road infrastructure. It allocates 60 per cent of all EU money spent on transport. It was a Green success that we got a majority in the European Parliament for a call demanding that at least 40 per cent of EU co-financing shall be invested in rail.

The best course of action would be to emulate the success story of Germany’s Renewable Energy Act, which is now considered an example in Europe in terms of forward-looking en-ergy. This act makes fossil fuels more expensive for consumers, in order to promote and im-prove the competitiveness of renewable energy.

This is a step in the right direction. Applying this to transport, the environmentally friendly railways would need to be privileged at the expense of road and air transport. For the time being, I would even be pleased if we could achieve the modest result of fair and equal com-petition between the various modes of transport.

EU Member States have the opportunity to take specific Europe-wide measures that really combat climate change. Transport cannot be disregarded again in this process.

Thank you very much for your attention!

For more information on the event, visit the website Transport and Climate Change: Bridging the gap - Road to Copenhagen