Is there a royal road to climate-friendly transport?

In Europe, transport accounts for nearly thirty percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and this proportion has been increasing in recent years. It is within this context that the member states of the European Union must reduce their emissions to zero by 2050. But how? The European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) and its member organizations have developed a package of proposals for emissions reduction within their ‘Decarbonisation of Transport’ project, which were presented at the Clean Air Action Group’s conference in Budapest on the 6th of June.

The presentations on the current situation in Flanders, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania revealed that the project examined the impact of EU regulations and expected national and local measures on transport emissions. The EU is imposing stricter limits on the fuel consumption of vehicles and is seeking to accelerate the increase the market share of zero emission (electric) vehicles. This can be achieved by local measures to increase the proportion of vehicles with lower emissions, especially electric vehicles, within the vehicle stock, or measures to restrict motor vehicle traffic. There was consensus at the conference that distance- and pollution-based tolls should be extended to all vehicles and all roads as soon as possible. In cities, a varying toll depending on traffic was proposed in the form of an effective congestion charge. It is also possible to reduce emissions through the designation of low emission zones. This is the case, for example, in London, where the newly introduced ultra low emission zone can only be entered free of charge by vehicles complying with at least the Euro 6 standard, as well as in many German cities, where in densely populated areas only cars better than Euro 5 are allowed to circulate. Similarly, such measures in the eastern Countries of the EU could prevent the import of older, more polluting cars restricted in Western Europe to the region – an issue that was also addressed at the conference.

The variations and difficulties in adopting measures were also discussed. Some argued that member countries needed to spend much more on convincing the public that unless they give up travelling by car everywhere and increase their use of public transport, cycling and walking, sufficiently reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from transport will not be possible. Mihai Stoica, the director of the Romanian NGO 2Celsius, highlighted the measures in Sofia as an example of how to raise awareness of the problem by making it directly perceptible. In the Bulgarian capital, many people joined the movement initiated by OK Lab in Stuttgart and placed a cheap instrument measuring particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5) at their homes. Data recorded by these instruments is remotely sent to Germany and appears on the Luftdaten online map. After seeing the extent to which their city is polluted, the inhabitants of Sofia besieged the town hall, calling local government to action. Following these events, the city’s administration began to take the issue seriously and developed a plan to combat air pollution.

Overall, those present at the conference agreed that it is impossible to keep global warming below the 1.5 ° C target set by the Paris Climate Convention without reducing carbon dioxide emissions from transport to zero by 2050. However, at the moment there is not enough political will in the EU member states to rapidly reduce vehicle traffic and meet the remaining needs with as little use of fossil fuels as possible. Not even in Germany, where – according to Dorothee Saar, a representative of Deutsche Umwelthilfe – the national and local governments actively partner and work with NGOs. In Hungary, Poland and Romania the situation is much worse. Not only do their governments lack commitment and will to combat climate change, but even well-meaning suggestions and ideas are often quickly done away with.

The project is supported by the EU Climate Initiative (EUKI) program of the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Protection and Nuclear Safety. The Budapest conference was hosted by the Flemish Government’s Representation in Hungary.

The full conference was life-streamed on the Facebook site

Photos of the event ( can be freely reproduced with the following text: ‘Photo: Zsolt Horváth, Clean Air Action Group’.

The presentations can be downloaded here:

Carlos Calvo Ambel, Manager for Analysis and Climate: T&E’s EUKI Project

András Lukács, Clean Air Action Group: Measures for decarbonisation of transport in Hungary

Piotr Skubisz, INSPRO: Measures for Decarbonising Transport in Poland

Mihai Stoica, 2Celsius: Measures to decarbonise transport in Romania one_flew_over_the_transport_sector.pdf

Laurien Spruyt, Bond Beter Leefmilieu: Decarbonisation of Transport in Belgium

Dorothee Saar, Deutsche Umwelthilfe: Decarbonisation of Transport in Germany

Carlos Calvo Ambel, T&E: The 2050 long term strategy. Overview of the role of transport in the net-zero economy and the role of stakeholders

Ádám Szabó, Institute of Transport Science: Plans of the Hungarian government for decarbonising transport