Austria cuts exhaust emissions by 56% in nine years

Austria’s innovative system of ecopoints for road hauliers has successfully cut exhaust emissions by 56% from 1991 levels, says the European Commission.

The project, which allocates a pollution limit to European member states for their lorries passing through Austria, began on 1 January 1992 and was designed to cut emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 60% by 2003. The ecopoint system will continue for the next three years, says the Commission, but will require an amendment if it is to succeed.

The system works by annually calculating a number of ecopoints equivalent to the number of trips made in 1991 multiplied by the NOx target for the year in question. Each heavy goods vehicle has to ‘pay’ a number of ecopoints for each transit journey through Austria, where one ecopoint corresponds to the emission of one gram of NOx per kilowatt hour of a lorry.

In order to prevent new vehicles with cleaner engines from causing an increase in the number of vehicles per ecopoint allocation, thus rendering the system ineffective, a clause was introduced preventing no more than an 8% increase in 1991 transport levels. However, amongst other criticisms of the clause, the Commission states that it is difficult to justify having a penalty which applies to lorries that are too clean, and is therefore proposing to abolish the clause.

“We must keep the system for a few more years in order to attain our objectives of reducing pollution and must prepare now for more rational transport to conserve the environment while ensuring freedom of movement,” said Loyola de Palacio, European Commission Vice President responsible for transport and energy, pointing out that the ecopoints system is a major incentive for the use of clean lorries.

Member states should pay penalties for lorries registered in their countries committing ecopoint fraud, says the Commission, and a detailed study should be carried out into the role of railways in the transport of freight through Austria.

The ecopoint system was developed in response to “the deteriorating environmental situation caused by transit traffic” resulting from a number of factors including Austria’s geographic position directly between Italy and Germany, as well as being on a major corridor to Eastern Europe. According to the Commission, Austria’s alpine areas also encourage north-south travel along alpine valleys whose fragile ecosystems are particularly susceptible to pollution. The growth in the transport of freight by road has also be exacerbated in Austria by the policy of artificially low weight limits for lorries travelling across Switzerland.

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