Evaluating 15 years of transport and environmental policy integration - TERM 2015: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

The Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report has been monitoring progress in integrating environmental objectives into transport since 2000. TERM 2015 is launched at the end of the year in which the European Environment Agency (EEA) launched its report European environment: State and outlook 2015 (SOER 2015) (EEA, 2015a).

SOER 2015 analyses the state of, trends in and prospects for Europe's environment in the context of the European Union's (EU's) Seventh Environment Action Programme (7EAP) and its 2050 vision of a Europe 'Living well, within the limits of our planet' (EU, 2013a). The headline messages in SOER 2015 include the following:

  • policies are working, however, the level of ambition of existing environmental policy may be inadequate to achieve Europe's long-term environmental goals;
  • 'Living well, within the limits of our planet' requires fundamental transitions in the systems of production and consumption that are the root cause of environmental and climate pressures;
  • such transitions require profound changes in dominant institutions, practices, technologies, policies, lifestyles and thinking;
  • achieving this level of commitment could put Europe at the frontier of science and technology, but it calls for a greater sense of urgency and bold actions.

These messages are also directly applicable to Europe's transport sector, both with their clear reference to the challenges ahead if Europe is to meet the objectives of the 7EAP and also the longer term ambition of developing a low-carbon economy. These messages create a context for this year's TERM 2015 report and the planned forward-looking TERM 2016 publication.

Fifteen years after the publication of the first TERM report, TERM 2015 takes a retrospective look at the transport sector, highlighting the past key developments in Europe's overall policy framework for reducing the environmental impacts of transport.

This year's report summarises key environmental trends and looks at the factors behind them, with a view to identifying what has improved and what has hampered the environmental performance of the transport sector.

The changing European transport policy framework
Europe's policy framework for reducing the environmental impacts associated with transport activities has evolved substantially since the early 1990s. The introduction of a number of EU policy instruments addressing specific environmental areas, such as air pollution and climate change and, to a lesser extent, noise and biodiversity, have played an important role in reducing the environmental impacts caused by transport. More recently, steps have been taken towards greater integration and policy coherence between climate, energy and transport policies. The importance of defining targets against which progress can be measured has increasingly been recognised, as well as the need for proper monitoring of policy implementation and ex post effectiveness.

TERM 2015 describes several of the 'primary' policies introduced in the transport sector that have included increasingly stringent technical standards, for example limits for the exhaust emissions of air pollutants and for the average CO2 emission standards for new passenger cars and vans and noise standards for various types of engine and equipment. The future role of additional policies promoting more environmentally friendly transport modes, such as the EU Railway Packages and the revised TEN-T (Trans‑European Transport Network) guidelines for transport infrastructure, is also presented.

The roadmap to a single European transport area — Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system (EC, 2011a) (referred to as the 2011 Transport White Paper) sets out 40 initiatives needed to help Europe develop a competitive transport system, reducing Europe's dependence on imported oil and reducing carbon emissions from transport by 60% by 2050 while supporting growth and employment.

Included in the core of the 2011 Transport White Paper were the principles of 'user pays' and 'polluter pays'. Consistent with this is the use of market‑based instruments, which are increasingly being chosen as policy options to help mitigate transport's environmental impacts. The road user charges, which are allowed for by the Eurovignette Directive (Directive 2011/76/EU amending Directive 1999/62/EC) in order to address environmental externalities associated with the use of heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs), is one such example of a policy instrument consistent with 'user-pays' principles. In 2015, 27 of the EEA's 33 member countries had some type of road charging for HDVs in place. The incorporation of aviation into the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) for greenhouse gases (GHGs) is another such example of market-based instruments described in this report.

Finally, the use of subsidies remains widespread in the EU, including in the transport sector. While certain public subsidies are generally beneficial in terms of their overall impacts on the environment, such as those supporting the provision of public transport infrastructure, others are less so. Some subsidies have had the inadvertent side-effect of inducing behaviour that is effectively harmful to the environment. Case studies presented in this year's report highlight such examples, including the preferential tax treatment of company cars and commuting expenses that lead to greater distances being driven than might otherwise have been the case, the tax exemptions on fuels for international transport by plane or ship, vehicle tax exemptions and the differential tax treatment of diesel and gasoline.

Past environmental trends and progress towards transport policy goals
In recent decades, progress has been made in improving many aspects of environmental quality in the EU, as assessed in SOER 2015. However, achieving the EU 2050 vision of 'Living well within the limits of the planet' remains challenging. Considering the mid‑term outlook, environmental trends in Europe either show a mixed picture or are deteriorating (EEA, 2015a). Transport conforms to this broader perspective. While the information included in this report highlights the progress that has been made in certain areas, key challenges remain.

Over the past 15 years, the annual TERM reports have documented the progress being made to reduce environmental impacts associated with the transport sector, as well as tracking the distance from target of specific policy objectives and goals. However, progress in meeting the transport goals set for EU Member States cannot yet be fully monitored, owing to lack of data and the often complicated nature of the evaluations required.

In relation to environmental pressures from transport, SOER 2015 is clear:
The economic recession led to reduced pollutant emissions by lowering transport demand. Transport is still responsible for 25% of EU GHG emissions, and contributes significantly to air pollution, noise and habitat fragmentation.

Table ES.1 summarises information presented in TERM 2015, highlighting past progress and outlining the extent to which the EU is on track to reach selected policy goals for which monitoring is performed (1). For each goal, a base year and corresponding value are determined, which serve as a starting point for a target trajectory. For transport GHG emissions, the 2011 Transport White Paper (EC, 2011a) defined the preferred policy option to reach the objective. This forms the basis of the trajectory for the reductions in transport GHG emissions. For the other objectives, the trend towards the target is assumed to be linear, starting from the base year.

Transport greenhouse gas emissions — to be reduced by 20% from 2008 levels by 2030, and by at least 60% from 1990 levels by 2050
Despite existing policies addressing GHG emissions, the transport sector is the only main European economic sector in which GHG emissions have increased since 1990 — all other sectors have achieved reductions in emissions. Transport emissions accounted for almost one-quarter of the EU's total GHG emissions in 2013 (one-fifth excluding international aviation and maritime emissions), with passenger cars contributing almost 45% and HDVs a further 20% of the transport sector's emissions.

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