EU must urgently rethink its transport model

Europe's transport sector constitutes a health emergency, warns Karima Delli.

Karima Delli | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Karima Delli

Karima Delli (FR, Greens/EFA) is chair of Parliament’s Transport and Tourism committee

24 Feb 2017

While certain sectors, such as agriculture and industry, have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, the transport sector's emissions have risen by 30 per cent since 1990. Urban transport alone accounts for a quarter of emissions, mainly due to road traffic. The EU must reverse this trend if it wants to reach its 2030 emissions reduction targets.

Mobility is not a goal in itself, but should be a right for all citizens. Soon, 80 per cent of Europeans will live in an urban area; mobility should therefore encourage mobility for all, including those with reduced mobility, at school, at work, for leisure, culture and health.

Yet urban mobility is often seen as a constraint, because most people rely on their car and traditional fuels. As a result, the transition to more sustainable modes of transport is very slow - 43 per cent of distance travelled around the world is done by car and represents three quarters of travel in Europe. 


This dependence on cars - and traffic, a direct consequence - costs European cities around €80bn and means that people who live in cities suffer mobility rather than choose it. What's more, 50 per cent of travel in cities does not exceed 5km.

This is a health emergency. Too many cars in Europe use diesel, which is a threat to our quality of life, our health and the environment. Each year, 400,000 people die because of fine particles emitted by diesel engine cars, which account for over 55 per cent of motor vehicles in Europe. 

The use of fossil fuels for transport is also a considerable weight on member states' energy bill. There is no time to waste - according to the UN, pollution will be the number one cause of death by 2050.

We must rethink urban mobility, both in terms of people and goods. It's crucial that we start considering mobility primarily in terms of sustainable development. 

This means we must strive for a balance between the social, environmental and economic impact of transport, as well as between satisfying current and future generations. 

It was in this context that the UN in 1992, in Rio, defined sustainable mobility as "transport policy that strives to sustainably reconcile accessibility, economic progress and environmental objectives."

The EU must set itself ambitious targets so that member states and regional and local authorities can, together, implement a new, durable sustainable transport model. 

It's disappointing to see that local officials in Paris, London and elsewhere are forced to take rushed, emergency decisions to deal with record pollution peaks and compensate for member states' scandalous passivity.

After COP21, during which governments all made strong commitments to protect our lives and the planet, we must prioritise clean transport: tramways, cable cars, bikes and carpool.

It's up to the member states to actively divert transport from road to waterway and rail, while giving enough importance to inter-modality.

Beyond ecology, this is common sense.