19.8.2016   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 303/10


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The impact of the conclusions of COP21 on European transport policy’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2016/C 303/02)

Rapporteur:

Raymond HENCKS

On 21 January 2016, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on:

The impact of the conclusions of COP21 on European transport policy.

(own-initiative opinion)

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 May 2016.

At its 517th plenary session, held on 25 and 26 May 2016 (meeting of 26 May 2016), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 188 votes to 2 with 4 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC welcomes the adoption of the Paris Agreement by the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and of the intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) of the EU and its Member States, committing to a reduction in domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of at least 40 % by 2030 and by 80 to 95 % by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.

1.2

It also agrees that this objective will need to be achieved collectively on the basis of shared responsibility between the EU and the Member States, and that new INDCs should be published every five years.

1.3

With regard to transport, the objective of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60 % compared with 1990 levels is still very ambitious and requires major efforts. Even though the effort-sharing decision for the period up to 2020 (Decision No 406/2009), and the future decision for the period 2020-2030, leave the Member States entirely free to choose which sectors of the economy will have to reduce their GHG emissions, the Commission has nonetheless suggested making use of international allowances, should additional efforts be needed, and avoiding additional commitments for sectors not covered by the ETS (COM(2015) 81); it has also stated, with regard to transport, that ‘deeper cuts can be achieved in other sectors of the economy’ (COM(2011) 144). The objective of reducing transport-related GHG emissions by 60 % can therefore still be considered to be relevant and in line with the EU’s general objective under COP21, provided the associated actions and initiatives are implemented urgently, with the necessary determination and as soon as possible.

1.4

This does not, however, exempt the EU and the Member States from reassessing the various actions and initiatives undertaken or planned in the White Paper on Transport (COM(2011) 144 final) and the roadmap on a framework strategy for a resilient energy union (COM(2015) 80 final) to determine their effectiveness, their feasibility and in particular their adequacy in relation to the objective of decarbonising transport, and then revising them and/or adding new actions and initiatives as part of the review of the White Paper scheduled for 2016, without adversely affecting the EU’s competitiveness. Some of these will be legislative initiatives, but most will have to be based on voluntary national contributions aimed at changing behaviour or habits, an approach that will be critical for success.

1.5

The EESC would also draw attention to the importance of the proposed efforts by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to establish a global emissions trading system (ETS) for aviation and by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to monitor emissions from shipping, and calls for ambitious outcomes in the context of the ongoing negotiations with these organisations.

1.6

It stresses that the polluter-pays principle should be applied flexibly, in particular in the context of remote rural, mountain and island areas, in order to avoid effects that are inversely proportional to the costs and in order to ensure that it continues to be useful as a way of influencing choices regarding the organisation of transport operations, while at the same time abolishing any unfair competition between different modes of transport. The EESC recommends that a comprehensive organisation of rural transport in the regions should be explored, with a view to meeting the COP21 agreement and the needs of vulnerable people.

1.7

In any event, application of the polluter-pays principle will not be sufficient to guarantee the transition to a low-carbon society, making additional measures — such as increasing energy efficiency, promoting electromobility, car-sharing and co-modality, developing alternative energy sources, developing environmental quality standards and, above all, promoting public transport — all the more important.

1.8

With regard to bioenergy, ongoing efforts are needed to reach a higher grade of greenhouse gas reductions and to prevent changes in land use. Therefore the use of residual products, by-products and waste products in fuel production should be further promoted. There is still some potential in road freighting, aviation and maritime traffic. However, biofuels are not a stand-alone solution and do not obviate the need to develop and promote solutions that aim to replace combustion engines with electric mobility and/or technologies based on hydrogen or other alternative sustainable energy sources.

Finally, it is important not to curb mobility in itself, but to reduce individual motorised journeys where there are viable alternatives and promote public transport, in the general interest of the environment and to avoid cities being suffocated by traffic.

1.9

Disinvestment in polluting activities should not be a matter just for governments, nor can it be achieved without raising awareness and enlisting support along the entire transport chain (construction, transport and users) through legislative or incentivising — and even disincentivising — measures. Capacity building, technical assistance and facilitated access to financing at local and national levels are crucial for the transition to the low-carbon transport system. The investment programmes of the European Union shall then give priority, while integrating all transport modes, to the most climate effective projects using assessment criteria coherent with the COP21 conclusions.

1.10

The mobilisation of civil society organisations and economic and social interest groups seen in relation to COP21 should be maintained, so as to develop a civic movement in favour of climate justice and disinvestment in polluting activities.

1.11

The EESC therefore recommends undertaking a participatory dialogue with civil society, as set out in its exploratory opinion of 11 July 2012 entitled Transport White Paper: getting civil society on board (CESE 1598/2012).

2.   Key decisions of the COP21 Paris Agreement

2.1

The United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change (to which the COP21 agreement of 2015 refers) was limited to stabilising greenhouse gas (the main greenhouse gas in the transport sector is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is emitted during the production phase in the case of electricity and during the operational phase in the case of fuels) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent any dangerous anthropogenic disturbance of the climate system. On the other hand, the Paris Agreement of 12 December 2015 for the first time commits all 195 signatories to the said framework agreement to accelerating the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions with the ultimate long-term objective of keeping the increase in average global temperature compared with pre-industrial levels significantly below 2 oC (by 2100), while continuing measures to limit the increase to 1,5 oC, against the background of the current trajectory of 3 oC global warming by the end of the 21st century.

2.2

After the agreement has been ratified, its signatories will have to undertake and communicate intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) under a series of five-year programmes with a view to realising the ultimate objective.

2.3

The Paris Agreement is set to enter into force as of 2020, provided it has been ratified by at least 55 States representing at least 55 % of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, without prejudice to the (highly recommended) possibility of applying it before it enters into force.

2.4

On 6 March 2015, the EU and its Member States agreed, in line with the conclusions of the European Council of 23 and 24 October 2014, to a binding target of reducing domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40 % by 2030 and by 80 to 95 % by 2050.

2.5

According to the aforementioned conclusions, the target must be delivered collectively by the EU and the Member States, including by achieving, by 2030, a 43 % reduction in ETS sectors and a 30 % reduction in non-ETS sectors (in each case compared with 2005), and by participating in a way that balances considerations of fairness and solidarity.

3.   Current situation of the EU transport sector

3.1

In its 2011 White Paper on Transport (COM(2011) 144 final), the European Commission already launched an urgent appeal concerning the need to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to keep climate change below 2 oC, noting that it is imperative to reduce GHGs emitted in the transport sector by at least 60 % compared with 1990 levels and also that ‘deeper cuts can be achieved in other sectors of the economy’.

3.2

Transport is responsible for around one quarter of the EU’s GHG emissions: 12,7 % of global ‘transport’ emissions are generated by aviation, 13,5 % by maritime transport, 0,7 % by rail, 1,8 % by inland waterways and 71,3 % by road transport (2008 figures). The environmental impact of a transport mode is not always determined by direct emissions alone, but also depends on indirect emissions due above all to the energy production needed for transport.

3.3

Globally, transportation has the highest growth of CO2 emissions of any industrial sector. In the EU the transport sector has the second biggest greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, emissions from the aviation and maritime sectors are experiencing the fastest growth while these sectors were not covered by the Paris Agreement.

3.4

The 2011 White Paper on Transport notes that the EU’s transport system is not yet sustainable, and would do the following to remedy the situation:

break the transport system’s dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency or compromising mobility,

use energy in a more restrained way and improve the energy performance of vehicles for all modes of transport.

3.5

In the White Paper on Transport and the roadmap on a framework strategy for a resilient energy union, the Commission proposes a number of measures to develop a decarbonised transport sector.

3.6

The suggested measures include more stringent CO2 emission standards for cars and vans post-2020, measures to improve fuel efficiency and reduce the emissions of heavy-duty vehicles, and improved traffic management. It is worth encouraging road charging schemes, based on the polluter-pays/user-pays principle, and the use of alternative fuels including electromobility, taking particular account of the need to deploy appropriate infrastructure.

4.   Necessary follow-up to the Paris Agreement

4.1

After the aforementioned agreement has been ratified (by 21 April 2017), its signatories will have to undertake and communicate nationally determined contributions under a series of five-year programmes with a view to realising the ultimate objective.

4.2

Under Article 4(16) of the Paris Agreement, the European Union can act on behalf of its Member States within a context of shared responsibility, and will have to notify the Paris Agreement secretariat of the level of emissions allocated to each individual Member State.

4.3

Under Article 4(9) of the Paris Agreement and decision 1/CP.21, contributions drawn up based on a timetable up to 2030 are to be communicated or updated by 2020, an exercise that must be repeated every five years under a low-GHG growth strategy to 2050. Progress must be made in each successive contribution compared with the previous contribution (Article 4(3)).

4.4

Although the European Union has thus set objectives and contributions to be achieved by 2030 and 2050, the fact remains that the level of global emissions (for all economic sectors taken together) projected by COP21 based on national contributions in 2030 (55 gigatonnes) is inadequate if the objective is to keep the increase in temperature below 2 oC, which makes it essential to mount an additional effort so as to reduce emissions to 40 gigatonnes.

4.5

Even though the effort-sharing decision for the period up to 2020 (Decision No 406/2009), and the future decision for the period 2020-2030, leave the Member States entirely free to choose which sectors of the economy will have to reduce their GHG emissions, the Commission’s communication on The Paris Protocol — A blueprint for tackling global climate change beyond 2020 (COM(2015) 81 final) suggests making use of international allowances, should additional efforts be needed, and avoiding additional commitments for sectors not covered by the ETS. The EESC has endorsed the EU’s position here (see opinion NAT 665/2015). Furthermore, the Commission maintained in the White Paper on Transport that ‘deeper cuts can be achieved in other sectors of the economy’.

4.6

In light of the above, and given that the 60 % reduction in GHG emissions in the transport sector had already been decided on well before the Paris conference with a view to keeping climate change below 2 oC, the EESC feels that this objective of a 60 % reduction is still relevant and in line with the COP21 decisions.

4.7

It should also be noted that the EU’s INDC does not include its commitments to working within the ICAO to support the development of a global emissions trading scheme for aviation and within the IMO with regard to the requirement for shipping to report on GHG emissions. The EU should promote ambitious outcomes in the context of the ongoing negotiations within the ICAO and IMO.

5.   The strategy: specific action needed

5.1

The EESC thus notes that there is significant consistency between the EU’s INDC and the targets set out in various Commission communications on climate policy measures in the field of transport. However, it remains urgent and imperative for the 40 action points and 131 initiatives in the White Paper on Transport to be implemented with the necessary determination and within the prescribed deadlines.

5.2

Nonetheless, when the White Paper is reviewed in 2016 as announced by the Commission, the measures in the White Paper on Transport relating to GHG emission reductions should be reassessed in light of the EU’s INDC and the targets set out in the Energy Union package (1).

5.3

The various initiatives undertaken or planned in the White Paper on Transport and the Energy Union package will have to be evaluated to determine their effectiveness, their feasibility and in particular their adequacy in relation to the objective of decarbonising transport, and then revised and/or supplemented by new initiatives. Some of these will be legislative initiatives, but most will have to be based on voluntary national contributions aimed at changing behaviour or habits, an approach that will be critical for success.

5.4

The transition to a low-carbon transport system poses the following challenges:

reconciling economic and social imperatives,

reflecting the public interest and environmental imperatives,

not curbing mobility in itself, but substantially reducing traffic and individual transport by spatial planning and economic policy in urban and peri-urban centres, and promoting public transport,

influencing behaviour, including travel habits, with efficient logistics for urban goods transport, including in urban environments, and promoting cooperative solutions to optimise the use of resources,

promoting co-modality.

Adequate transport-related activities to curb emissions at national and sub-national level could put cities on track towards a 50 % emission reduction by 2050 compared with business as usual. Isolated solutions that already exist should be embedded into strategic mobility planning policies that allow better coordination between urban and transport policies. Capacity building, technical assistance and facilitated access to financing at local and national levels are crucial to deliver on these objectives.

5.5

The Connecting Europe Facility, the Structural and Cohesion Funds, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, as well as any other EU programme supporting transport investments in their funding of projects shall give priority to the most climate effective projects while at the same time integrating the different modes to achieve a European transport network. The criteria to assess the requests of funding shall include explicit references to the principles corresponding to the COP21 conclusions.

5.6

Effort sharing between Member States and between ETS and non-ETS sectors — including transport — will be a key element in the implementation of the EU’s INDC, and must also be consistent with its strategic objectives. This effort-sharing must reflect the European Council conclusions of October 2014 in order to achieve a balanced result, taking account of cost-effectiveness and competitiveness. These criteria should hold when the effort-sharing decision for 2020-2030 is taken in 2016 (COM(2015) 80, Annex 1), allowing for the competitiveness of the EU to be maintained.

5.7

The aforementioned review of the White Paper should also include specific provisions to stimulate a broad debate with civil society, given that it is essential to gain social acceptance for the measures, some of which are rather unpopular, and that any measures will be ineffective unless all those whom they affect identify with them. The intensive mobilisation of civil society organisations and economic and social interest groups seen in relation to COP21 should therefore be maintained, so as to develop a civic movement in favour of climate justice and disinvestment in polluting activities.

5.8

Initiatives such as the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), bringing together countries committed to developing policies and regulations on vehicle energy efficiency, or the Paris Declaration on Electro-Mobility and Climate Change and Call to Action, building on commitments of hundreds of decisive efforts towards sustainable transport electrification, MobiliseYourCity, aiming at supporting cities and developing and emerging countries to create and implement sustainable urban mobility plans and national urban transport policies, or the Global Green Freight Action Plan, should be promoted and extended.

5.9

As the EESC has noted previously (2), participatory governance requires a good organisational and procedural structure in order to be effective and for the desired objectives to be achieved. Stakeholder commitment to long-term sustainable development works best if it is organised as a continuous and integrative process rather than being conducted through one-off or ad hoc exercises.

5.10

The EESC has decided to set up a European sustainable development civil society forum which would provide a structured and independent framework for civil society involvement in the implementation, monitoring and review of cross-cutting issues arising from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in particular its 13th goal (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.). For issues relating to the transport sector, it will be necessary to use the participatory dialogue run by the EESC and planned for the implementation of the 2011 White Paper on Transport.

5.11

The EESC is also working on an opinion (NAT/684) on building a coalition of civil society and subnational authorities to deliver the commitments of the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement should not create yet another commitment platform, but rather launch a comprehensive framework that aligns non-state and governmental measures over the long term. The role of civil society in the implementation of the commitments is absolutely crucial.

5.12

Disinvestment in polluting activities should not be a matter just for governments, nor can it be achieved without raising awareness and enlisting support along the entire transport chain (construction, transport and users) through legislative or incentivising — and even disincentivising — measures.

5.13

The strategy of voluntary commitments adopted in the COP21 agreement means that each country only has to indicate non-binding commitments, whereas introducing a binding emissions standard would certainly be the most effective solution in terms of achieving the desired outcome from the Paris Agreement. Nonetheless, the effort-sharing within the EU for 2020-2030 referred to in point 5.5 above will strengthen the commitments made.

6.   Polluter-pays system

6.1

Under the Lisbon Treaty (see TFEU Article 191(2)), the EU’s environmental policy is founded on the precautionary and preventive action principles, the principle that environmental damage should be rectified at source, and the polluter-pays principle.

6.2

The point is to ensure that the price of environmental damage is paid by the polluters who are responsible for causing it. However, in the Member States the price of carbon is addressed in climate policies in very different ways. Taxes are the predominant approach, but these impact above all on jobs and on the purchasing power of the poorest households.

6.3

According to the White Paper on Transport, charges and taxes should be restructured to take better account of the polluter-pays and user-pays principles.

6.4

The approach envisaged by the Commission entails a polluter-pays system and options available using road charging as a means of financing the construction and maintenance of infrastructure. The aim of this system is to promote sustainable transport modes by internalising external costs and guaranteeing financing.

6.5

The EU has an incoherent patchwork of systems including electronic tolls, vignettes, congestion charges and pay-as-you-drive charges calculated by satellite (GNSS). Moreover, EU rules on road transport taxation for heavy goods vehicles (the Eurovignette) now apply in only four Member States, while other Member States do not even collect any road tolls at all. This situation raises serious issues about the development of the single market and for ordinary people, as it is having a negative impact on economic growth and is exacerbating social inequalities in many Member States. In addition, this failure to levy road usage charges, quite apart from the environmental costs it entails, could have an impact on competitive conditions for rail transport, in cases where a railway service is available.

6.6

However, it is important for a European road charging system to have a certain degree of flexibility so that it can take account of the situation in peripheral regions and remote rural, mountain and island areas with low population density where there are no viable alternatives to road transport, such that the internalisation of external costs would have no effect on behaviour or the organisation of transport and would simply undermine competitiveness. The economic and social wellbeing of rural regions is dependent on both a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly transport system. As a means of curbing transport emissions some governments have introduced different forms of carbon tax, which have failed to curb transport emissions and added significantly to the costs of families, especially those in rural, remote and mountain areas.

6.7

According to the Commissioner for transport, the Commission is planning to propose a European system for trucks and private cars by the end of 2016 that would involve uniform rules on toll collection in all the EU Member States based solely on the number of kilometres covered.

6.8

The EESC welcomes the Commission’s intention to harmonise the road charging system at European level based on the polluter-pays principle, but feels that the internalisation element of the system will undoubtedly not be enough to achieve a sustainable transport policy that meets the commitments made under COP21, which calls for additional measures such as increasing energy efficiency, promoting electromobility, car-sharing and co-modality, developing alternative energy sources, developing environmental quality standards and, above all, promoting public transport.

6.9

Another measure could be to fix a price for carbon based on economic and social criteria. When oil prices are too low, as is the case now, it certainly does not send a signal to all those concerned by transport to modify their behaviour and take measures to reduce their energy consumption. However, stricter standards for fuel, energy efficiency, automated traffic management and the development of alternative fuels may open up pathways to reduce emissions without adversely affecting competitiveness.

7.   Innovation, research and development, alternative fuels

7.1

The EESC emphasises the absolute necessity for a proactive industrial policy and coordinated R & D to support the transition to the low-carbon economy. A sustained R & D effort is required to reconcile the inevitable increase in transport with a reduction in polluting emissions.

7.2

The transport Roadmap indicates that it will be necessary to continue developing biofuels, especially in aviation and heavy goods transport, while noting that the development of biofuels raises food security and environmental issues. The Roadmap emphasises that more sustainable second- and third-generation biofuels will have to be developed.

7.3

With regard to bioenergy, ongoing efforts are needed to reach a higher grade of greenhouse gas reductions and to prevent changes in land use. Therefore the use of residual products, by-products and waste products in fuel production should be further promoted. There is still some potential in road freighting, aviation and maritime traffic. However, biofuels are not a stand-alone solution and do not obviate the need to develop and promote solutions that aim to replace combustion engines with electric mobility and/or technologies based on hydrogen or other alternative sustainable energy sources.

7.4

The transition to electric mobility must be accompanied by a transition to car-sharing. However, it must still be borne in mind that, even if we switch completely to engines powered by sustainable fuels, cities will still be at risk of being suffocated by traffic as long as public transport and efficient distribution systems do not become the general rule.

Brussels, 26 May 2016.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


(1)  OJ C 291, 4.9.2015, p. 14.

(2)  OJ C 299, 4.10.2012, p. 170.