Move Green: strategic measures for the EU transport sector

05. März 2008 zur Übersicht

Speech at the Conference on Climate Change, Green Logistics, Sustainable Mobility - Valencia, Spain.

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I would like to express my sincere thanks for the invitation to attend the conference 'Co-modality - an intermodal key to sustain green mobility', and for the privilege of giving the speech here today. Looking at the impressive list of participants and the good selection of topics, I can already tell that this meeting will be a success.

In my opening remarks I would like, if I may, to tie in with a subject that in the last year has preoccupied politics, the economy and society like no other: climate change. Many studies -starting with the Stern report in automn 2006 - have been published, many chocking news have alarmed politics. But despite all new awareness and all declarations of good intent I fear that still too little action is undertaken.

Looking only at the EU we notice that we are lacking behind in terms of reaching the Kyoto targets decided in 1997. Only two percent of the EU-15 target of minus 8 percent are achieved. Spain's emissions, for instance, were skyrocketing in past years. If we can't stop emissions to grow - and if we don't manage to lower them significantly - climate change will be unstoppable.

A growing cause of this change is transport, which, in the European Union, now accounts for almost 30% - and growing - of CO2 emissions which are harmful to the climate. Despite this, the wrong political course seems to have been set across the board: large subsidies for the climate culprits motor vehicles and aeroplanes, yet more and more new barriers and burdens for the railways. Consequently, transport continues 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 Scandinavia are peeled in Morocco before they reach plates in Paris, London or Oslo. Although 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. Food transport has doubled in the last 20 years, and heavy traffic on German roads has tripled since the 1980s. Between 1993 and 2000 the number of air passengers in the EU rose by around 10% a year. Transport in Europe is too cheap - it is only the environmentally friendly options that are too expensive. Consequently, the modal shift of traffic from the roads to the railways is thwarted by the framework conditions.

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 between 2000 and 2004. Emissions of this pollutant have increased by almost 25% since 1990. In air transport they have doubled. 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 is responsible for 70 percent in cities. Approximately 70% of imported oil is needed in the transport sector, which is 96% dependent on oil. Everyone wants to move away from oil, everyone wants to combat climate change - yet everyone is ignoring transport. This strategy is doomed to failure!

A closer examination of our mobility reveals an anachronism: the climate-damaging modes of transport - that soapbox speeches talk of - reducing are highly subsidised in everyday life, whereas the more environmentally friendly ones are subject to tax. As you can see in the present slide: 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 charging 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.

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 14%.

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 Germany, 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, whereas 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.

During my last visit to Spain on a delegation trip of the European Parliament's Transport Committee I noticed a remarkable situation: toll highways seemed pretty empty while toll-free national roads, leading parallel to them, were overcrowded with lorries. Unfortunately Spain is not the only member state luring trucks away from highways to national roads by offering the latter for free. France as well as Germany, two major transit countries in Europe, do the same. It seems absurd to invest billions in highway infrastructure without adapting the price system. The Swiss example shows: lorry tolls have to be charged for the use of every road. If not, the effect to increase a modal shift away from the roads will not appear. Already today the Eurovignette directive opens up the opportunity to all Member States to charge road transport on all roads, not only on highways. Governments should no longer hesitate to use this tool.

In this context I am looking forward to the review of the Eurovignette directive and the proposals of the EU commission to internalise external costs in June this year. It is high time that all costs caused by road transport have to be covered by the producer. This includes more than only infrastructure costs but also costs resulting out of noise, environmental damages and - not least - climate change.

The situation with air transport is also anachronistic. The tax exemption for kerosene - introduced more than half a century ago as a financial boost 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.

Not all countries give preferential treatment to air transport with its harmful effects on the climate. The Netherlands, for example, taxes kerosene on its very few internal flights just as the United States and Canada do. My party, the Group of the Greens in the European Parliament, is calling for this tax to apply to all flights in the EU, and plans to use the 14 billion euros a year in anticipated receipts to modernise Europe’s railways and to realise a modal shift. Here, too, at a good 1 euro per 100 km of air travel, the cost to the consumer is acceptable - particularly when compared with the cost of billions which would be incurred by doing nothing and allowing unchecked climate change.

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 energy. This Act makes fossil fuels more expensive for consumers, in order to promote and improve 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 competition between the various modes of transport.

The proposals are there. Let me please highlight once again some major tasks to be fullfilled for the necesarry turn in Europe's ttransport policy:

? Introduction of a European climate-protection tax on aviation fuel. This revenue of 14 Billion € a year is necessary for the funding of international rail connections.

? Increase of European lorry tolls based on the polluter pays principle, with the social cost of road haulage factored into the charges, reduction of the liability threshold to 3.5 tons and gradual extension of the toll system to the entire road network.

? Air and sea transport must be included in CO2 emissions trading under Kyoto II. Tax privileges, subsidies and grants, including those for inland waterway transport, must be eliminated.

The European Union and the United Nations have put climate protection right at the top of the agenda. 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. At the very least, a level playing field needs to be established for the railways, by curtailing the traditional privileges of those modes of transport that harm the climate.

Thank you very much for your attention.