EESC transporting Europe into a low-carbon future - Calling for a U-turn in transport policy

The transport sector is vital to the EU’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and meet greenhouse gas emissions targets, which have been revised following the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21). But transport is also fundamental for the EU's economy and people's welfare. The EESC is working to help Europe navigate towards a greener future.

On Monday 4 April 2016, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), with the support of the European Parliament´s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN), organised a public hearing to discuss the impact of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) on EU transport policy. Once ratified by enough countries, COP 21's 'Paris Agreement' will seek to limit global warming to no more than 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels.

At the outset Pierre Jean Coulon, President of the EESC TEN section, stressed the responsibility of the European Parliament and the EESC, as the two components of public representation, in dealing with this topic because of the importance of transport and also the impact it has on citizens' lives.

Transport – the single main polluter

As the transport sector represents around a third of the EU’s CO2 emissions, making it more sustainable and efficient is a central component of Europe’s efforts to combat climate change. Michael Cramer, chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism in the European Parliament, pointed out that while households, the industry and the energy sector had reduced their emissions, transport emissions had grown by 22% since 1990. Therefore it is important to associate the climate change issues not only with the energy sector but also with transport. He underlined the importance of changing transport policy by quoting some hard figures: 72% of the CO2-emissions in transport occur from road transport, urban areas suffer the most from climate-damaging emissions. In German cities these emissions account for up to 70% while 90% of journeys are below 6 kilometres, a distance easily managed by public transport. Therefore Mr. Cramer is convinced, that "the solution is in the cities". He also criticised the Juncker plan for disregarding transport.

Gearing up for change

The lack of true costs transparency in transport is a major issue to tackle, as according to Mr Cramer there should be a level playing field for all transport modes. Moreover, alternatives have to be considered. As the examples of Amsterdam or Copenhagen demonstrate, substantial amounts of goods could be transported by cargo-bikes (up to 200 kg).


Cathy Macharis, Professor at the Free University of Brussels, explained why we should and can change transport policy and at the same time keep up the good work. A major step would be the 4 A's of sustainable transport which are

  • Awareness
  • Avoidance
  • Act & shift  and
  • Anticipation.

Some of her proposals included product compaction, packaging compaction, use of free capacities - European trucks are half empty! – and supply-chain cooperation. She stressed that it was important to involve all the stakeholders.

Re-evaluate, re-assess, and re-form EU transport policy

Jos Dings, Executive Director, Transport & Environment, stressed that "we need to step up efforts to reduce emissions. If we want to talk about climate and energy problems, we need to start with transport which not only accounts for 1/3 of the carbon emissions, but also for 1/3 of Europe's energy use and ½ of the EU's energy-import bill." Furthermore, action is needed on cars and on trucks already by 2025, not 2030. Effective transport policy requires a holistic approach: Electrifying transport is only sustainable when the electricity used is produced sustainably; furthermore, first-generation biofuels must be phased out and the main focus should be on energy efficiency. Europe has a responsibility, as around 70% of countries in the world are following the EU's standards template.

A 2011 European Commission White Paper called for a 60% reduction in EU transport emissions compared with 1990 levels through efficiency gains and alternative fuels until 2050 (related EESC opinion).

The EESC is currently drafting an own-initiative opinion on the matter in hand and the main findings of the hearing in Brussels, aimed at 'Building a coalition of civil society and subnational authorities to deliver the commitments of the Paris Agreement', will contribute to the EESC study group’s work.

"The EU’s emissions targets for 2030, though ambitious, may fall short of the COP 21 commitments. Therefore it's necessary to assess the various initiatives under the White Paper and the Energy Union Package in terms of effectiveness and with regard to the de-carbonation goal. The stake in transition is a fair trade-off between economic and social interests, taking into account environmental considerations while at the same time maintaining mobility",  concluded Raymond Hencks, rapporteur of the opinion currently being drafted.