The EU environment ministers want the European Commission to propose extra measures to make road traffic cleaner, quieter and more fuel efficient.

This was the conclusion of last weeks meeting of the Environment Council, chaired by Dutch Secretary of State for the Environment, Pieter Van Geel.

Ministers said these measures were vital if Member States are to achieve the compulsory European environmental objectives and meet standards for air pollution, noise and CO2 emissions. They agreed that increasing levels of road traffic were placing ever-greater pressures on the environment and on the health of European cities and populations.

To reduce pollution, Ministers called for more stringent standards for particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, as well as stricter noise standards for tyres and motors. While awaiting their introduction, some environment ministers proposed offering tax incentives for soot filters.

As for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the ministers suggested setting a more stringent ceiling of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometre instead of the present 140 grams per litre, and fell that the Commission should be prepared to legislate if the automotive industry proves recalcitrant.

The subject of sustainable road traffic had first been tabled by State Secretary Van Geel who feels that European policy is developing far too slowly in this area.

Speaking at the Energy in Motion Conference, Mr Van Geel said: “A radical change like switching to bio-fuels may seem expensive if we think only in terms of climate objectives. But it suddenly looks far more attractive if we consider that it will make us less dependent on imported fossil fuels. It is tempting to commit ourselves to a single option like bio-fuels or hydrogen. But, if there is a silver bullet of this kind, we are not yet in a position to identify it. We don’t know enough to say which fuel will eventually turn out to be the most cost-effective option for the environment. So we mustn’t get involved in a battle over the best choice of new fuel or power technology. The most sensible approach is to explore various alternatives and encourage crossfertilisation between them. Market forces must decide which technologies get developed. It is not for government to promote a particular technology, but to solve the problems of society.”

European governments are becoming increasingly open to the idea of financial measures to discourage car use, from London’s congestion charging zone, to recent discussion in the Italian government over levying taxes on larger ‘gas guzzling’ vehicles such as SUVs.

By David Hopkins

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