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Accession countries taking over EU's unsustainable transport patterns, EEA report warns

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Press Release Published 03 Dec 2002 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
7 min read
The 13 countries seeking accession to the European Union are rapidly adopting the EU's unsustainable transport patterns, as roads gain increasing importance in their transport systems at the expense of the railways and economic recovery brings growing levels of traffic.


Copenhagen, 3 December 2002

Accession countries taking over EU's unsustainable transport patterns, EEA report warns

The 13 countries seeking accession to the European Union are rapidly adopting the EU's unsustainable transport patterns, as roads gain increasing importance in their transport systems at the expense of the railways and economic recovery brings growing levels of traffic.

This is the headline message of a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), Paving the way for EU enlargement: Indicators of transport and environment integration.

The report examines progress made in the transport sector in implementing the principle, adopted by EU leaders at their Cardiff summit in 1998, of integrating environmental concerns into other policy areas.

Based on a set of key indicators of progress - or lack of it - the report finds that transport trends in both the EU and accession countries are moving away from, not closer to, the main environmental objectives of EU policies on transport and sustainable development.

These call for breaking the close link between economic growth and transport expansion, as well as stabilising the "modal split” -- the market shares of the different transport modes - at 1998 levels by 2010, then shifting traffic from the roads back to rail and inland waterways.

The report shows, for instance, that in the EU and accession countries energy consumption by transport and the associated emissions of greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly, mainly due to growth in road transport. Another indicator shows land-take by transport infrastructure is rising and increasing pressures on designated nature protection areas.

In the accession countries the environmental pressures from transport are still less than in the EU, but this favourable position is changing fast:

  • Transport volumes in the accession countries, which fell significantly following the economic recession of the early 1990s, are now rising again as economies recover. By 1999 volumes were almost back to their 1990 levels, and this trend is expected to continue;
  • Railways' share of freight and passenger traffic remains well above EU levels but overall transport infrastructure in the accession countries is evolving towards a road-oriented system. This will make it harder to maintain a substantial market share for rail;
  • The transport sector's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are three to four times lower than EU levels on a per-capita basis but, as in the EU, are growing rapidly;
  • Road and rail networks are less dense than in the EU, causing less fragmentation of the land, but motorway lengths have almost doubled over the past 10 years.

On a brighter note, the accession countries' transport emissions of certain air pollutants fell at the beginning of the 1990s and, helped by fleet modernisation and improved fuel quality, stabilised in the second half of the decade despite rising transport volumes.

However, while urban air quality is generally improving across Europe, urban populations remain exposed to pollution levels, from traffic as well as other sources, that pose a danger to health.

Gordon McInnes, EEA Interim Executive Director, said:

"The analysis indicates that the main challenge for the accession countries is to maintain the advantage they still have in certain aspects of transport and environment while meeting society's need to improve living standards and consequent demands for increased mobility."

"It would be highly regrettable if this opportunity were lost. However, current trends in the accession countries are worrying. The EU Transport Council has invited these countries to adopt the EU's principle of environmental integration, but more needs to be done to ensure that this invitation is turned into action."

The report's key messages are annexed to this news release.

The report in full and a summary are posted on the EEA web site at Printed copies will be available on request from next month.

Notes for editors

- The accession countries are Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. For the purposes of this report, Turkey, which is also a candidate for EU membership, is also considered an accession country.

- The report, also known as TERM 2002, is the third produced under the EU's transport and environment reporting mechanism (TERM) but is the first to include the accession countries. TERM is steered jointly by the EEA, Eurostat, the European Commission's statistics office, and the Commission's Directorates-General for Transport & Energy and Environment.

About the EEA

The European Environment Agency is the main source of information used by the European Union and its Member States in developing environment policies. The Agency aims to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy-making agents and the public. Established by the EU in 1990 and operational in Copenhagen since 1994, the EEA is the hub of the European environment information and observation network (EIONET), a network of around 300 bodies across Europe through which it both collects and disseminates environment-related data and information.

The Agency, which is open to all nations that share its objectives, currently has 29 member countries. These are the 15 EU Member States; Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Economic Area; and 11 of the 13 accession countries - Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic. The EEA is the first EU body to take in the accession countries. It is anticipated that the two remaining accession or candidate countries, Poland and Turkey, will ratify their membership agreements within the next few months. This will take the Agency's membership to 31 countries. Membership negotiations with Switzerland, which is not in the EU, are also under way.


Key messages

Is the environmental performance of the transport sector improving?

indicator-negative.gif Energy consumption by transport is increasing rapidly, mainly as a result of growth in road transport
indicator-negative.gif Accession country (AC) transport CO2 emissions dropped in the early 1990s, but are now growing with traffic volumes
indicator-neutral.gif AC transport emissions of air pollutants dropped at the beginning of the 1990s, and have since stabilised
indicator-negative.gif Land take by transport infrastructure is increasing
indicator-neutral.gif Land fragmentation in the ACs is less than in the EU, but is increasing with infrastructure development
indicator-negative.gif Extension of infrastructure networks is increasing pressures on designated nature areas
indicator-neutral.gif Road fatalities in the ACs fell in the early 1990s, but are now levelling at around 21 000 a year
indicator-negative.gif The number of detected illegal oil discharges from shipping remains stable in the Baltic Sea and is not monitored in the Black Sea
indicator-negative.gif Numbers of end-of-life vehicles and used tyres are expected to grow significantly

Are we getting better at managing transport demand and at improving the modal split?  

indicator-neutral.gif Freight intensity (tonne-km transported per unit of economic activity) in the ACs is falling, but is still on average five times higher than in the EU  
indicator-negative.gif Freight transport in the ACs is shifting to road, but the share of rail is still much larger than in the EU  
indicator-guestionmark.gif Passenger transport is growing in the ACs, but data are insufficient to quantify this  
indicator-negative.gif Passenger transport is shifting to road and air, but the share of rail in ACs is still well above the EU average

Are we optimising the use of existing transport infrastructure capacity and moving towards a better-balanced intermodal transport system?

indicator-guestionmark.gif Motorway lengths have almost doubled in 10 years, but AC road density is still lower than in the EU  
indicator-guestionmark.gif The limited data on investments indicate a prioritisation of road investments

Are we moving towards a fairer and more efficient pricing system, which ensures that external costs are internalised?

indicator-guestionmark.gif External costs of transport are not yet quantified for the ACs
indicator-negative.gif Few cost internalisation instruments are in force in the ACs  
indicator-negative.gif Trends in fuel prices are not encouraging the use of more fuel-efficient transport modes

How rapidly are cleaner technologies being introduced and how efficiently are vehicles being used?

indicator-guestionmark.gif No data on energy efficiency are available for ACs; in the EU all modes except rail show some improvement  
indicator-guestionmark.gif No data are available for ACs on specific emissions of vehicles; EU road vehicles show significant improvement  
indicator-negative.gif The AC vehicle fleet is on average four to five years older than the EU fleet  
indicator-neutral.gif Uptake of vehicle and fuel standards is improving, but the share of cars with catalytic converters is still low in ACs

Are environmental management and monitoring tools being used effectively to support policy-making?

indicator-negative.gif Integrated transport and environment strategies are lacking in ACs  
indicator-neutral.gif Institutional cooperation on transport and environment is emerging in ACs but is seldom formalised  
indicator-negative.gif ACs are not monitoring environmental integration into their transport policies
indicator-neutral.gif A few ACs have legal requirements for strategic environmental assessment, but application in the transport sector is limited to pilot initiatives.  

The 'smiley' faces next to each indicator aim to give a concise assessment of the trend for that indicator in the accession countries:
indicator-positive.gif positive trend, moving towards policy objective or target
indicator-neutral.gif some positive development, but either insufficient to reach policy objective or mixed trend within the indicator
indicator-negative.gif unfavourable trend, moving away from policy objective or target
indicator-guestionmark.gif impossible to evaluate the trend because of data gaps or lack of policy objective or target



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