An efficient, effective and flexible transport system is essential for economic activity and quality of life. People demand and expect convenient and affordable mobility for work, education and leisure. But the transport system that has evolved in the EU to meet these needs poses significant and growing threats to the environment and human health, and even defeats its own objectives ("too much traffic kills traffic").
The key to finding a balance between these seemingly opposing concerns is to develop policies that integrate environmental and other sustainability concerns into transport decision-making and related policies. Sustainability, of transport and other sectors, is now a goal for the EU under the Amsterdam Treaty - and progress is required.
"You can't manage what you can't measure". The success of current and future integrated policies can only be judged by identifying key indicators that can be tracked and compared with concrete policy objectives (benchmarking). The Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) has been set up specifically for this purpose.
This is the first indicator-based TERM report. It has been designed to help EU and Member States to monitor progress with their transport integration strategies, to identify changes in the key leverage points for policy intervention (such as investments, economic instruments, spatial planning and infrastructure supply), and to make results accountable to society. It is expected to act as a model for other sectoral indicator reports at EU level.
The picture it presents raises urgent concerns. The traditional approach of environmental regulation, such as setting vehicle and fuel standards, has resulted in significant improvements. But much of the gain is rapidly being outweighed by growing transport volumes, particularly private car transport and aviation, and by the introduction of heavier and more powerful vehicles. In addition to the environment and health problems linked to traffic pollution, traffic accidents continue to exact a heavy toll of deaths and injuries.
Clearly, major efforts are needed to reduce the linkage between transport and economic growth. This requires a change in policy, from the mainly supply-oriented transport policies of recent decades (focusing particularly on road transport infrastructure and car supply) towards more integrated demand-side policies designed to improve accessibility, while restricting the growth in motorised traffic. This requires, for example, better coordinated spatial and infrastructure planning, fair and efficient pricing, telecommunications and public education. To reach the Kyoto targets and beyond (as further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions will be needed) it is also essential to reduce substantially the use of fossil fuels in transport. This would be a win-win track, as in doing so we are also tackling other serious air-pollution problems (acid rain, urban air pollution, eutrophication).
Various groups have a role to play in the integration process. The effectiveness of the process relies on the cooperation of EU, national, regional and local policy-makers (in the areas of transport, environment, economy, regional development and spatial planning). Industry, transport operators and users will also have to play their part.
TERM is a participatory process, involving the EEA, the European Commission (DG Transport, DG Environment and Eurostat) and the Member States, following a Council mandate. We would welcome comments and feedback from policy-makers and interest groups. This would help us to improve the indicators and to match them more closely to the information needs of policy-makers and the public.
I am confident that this and future TERM indicator reports will help to make the transport sector both more eco-efficient ("more welfare from less nature") and more accountable.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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