Rhein on Energy and Climate

Urban mobility is bound to become one the most pressing global issues in the coming decades. By 2050, three quarters of Humanity are expected to live in urban regions, with detrimental consequences for mobility, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Europe scores substantially better than most other regions on earth; but even in Europe mobility and air pollution have kept deteriorating in recent decades. The most recent smog alarm in several French cities and Brussels should have been an alarm signal for European governments neglecting the issue.

Within Europe mobility and air qualities vary widely between cities and regions, with Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands and, to a lesser extent, Germany faring much better than Italy, Greece or Portugal.

The time necessary to get to work exceeds more than 30 minutes in most European cities and tends to lengthen rather than shorten, as it should.

About one third of the people continue to use individual cars to get to work. No surprise that 40 per cent of all C02 emissions from transport are generated in urban areas and C02 emissions per person exceed one ton in most cities.

The costs of urban traffic (congestion, pollution, noise, health impact, damage to buildings) in Europe are estimated to amount to € 100 billion annually, one per cent of the EU GDP and almost the equivalent of the EU budget. That is far too much to ignore!

The EU must therefore step up its efforts to ease urban mobility and lower emissions.

That requires courageous measures. The number of European cities having done so and offering examples is impressive.

Urban mobility and pollution do not fall under EU competences. It is therefore impossible for the EU to intervene directly.

This may explain, at least partially the lack of progress during the last 20 years, notwithstanding the Commission’s efforts in producing white papers, green papers and action plans.

In early 2014, 40 per cent of European city dwellers complained of air pollution, congestion and transport costs. That is an unacceptably high percentage.

Copenhagen, Europe’s 2014 green Capital, deserves praise for having established a long-term strategy addressing mobility and pollution: it aims at half of its inhabitants using the bicycle to go to school or work next year, and by 2025 it wants to be C02-neutral!

All European cities should follow Copenhagen’s approach and elaborate their strategies for improving mobility and air quality.

The EU can support such efforts in two major ways:

  • by making available long-term financing. The EIB should make such financing a top priority until 2030.
  • by encouraging municipalities to engage in an intensive exchange of experience , whether through the existing “ Mayors` Covenant” or a new expert group for urban mobility, as recently suggested by the EU Commission.

The big investments necessary for the improvement of urban mobility and air quality will contribute to the creation of jobs in the next years.

Whatever the ways of tackling the issue, it would be a shame if Europe were unable to successfully address a vital issue for its citizens` well-being, starting with good health!

Urban mobility and clean air should become a political top priority for the next Commission and European Parliament.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 17/3/2014

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