Dutch advisory councils: “Urgent need to put a price on transport CO2 emissions"

Current policies for the transport sector are utterly inadequate for securing long-term European climate objectives. To achieve these targets the ever-upward trend in the CO2 emissions of both passenger and freight transport must be breached. Without appropriate action the transport sector will take up the entire European CO2 emissions ‘space’ by the year 2050. Robust measures in this fast-growing sector are thus urgently required. The government consequently needs to take vigorous initiatives on pricing policy, dedicated CO2 reduction policy and flanking policy. This is the conclusion of the Council for Transport, Public Works and Water Management, the Council for Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment and the Energy Council in the joint advice set out in the report ‘Een prijs voor elke reis’. An abridged version is available in an English translation entitled ‘Every journey has its price’. The advice was presented to Ministers Eurlings, Cramer and Van der Hoeven of the three relevant departments on Monday, 28th January.

In the Councils’ view it is the combination of these three policy tracks that is so essential. If long-term CO2 reduction targets are to be realised, pricing policy is indispensable. In other words, the CO2 emissions of all forms of transport – overland, maritime and air – must be assigned a price as soon as possible. Payment for CO2 emissions can be effectuated via either charges or emissions trading. A pricing mechanism will induce businesses and consumers to seek transport alternatives with less climate impact. Businesses can source their products closer to home, for example, while consumers can opt to make greater use of public transport. This will also create market incentives for cleaner aircraft and other means of transport.

On its own pricing policy is not enough, though. Dedicated CO2 reduction policies are also essential. Examples include CO2 standards for passenger cars, tax breaks for purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles and CO2 standards for transport fuels. These kinds of abatement policies will encourage introduction of more energy-efficient drive-train technologies and lower-carbon fuels.

Flanking policies are required to create a suitable playing field for transport CO2 reductions. The aim of such policies is to facilitate sustainable alternative choices and encourage innovation. An example of the first would be improved spatial planning in combination with better public transport. In the second case the main emphasis is on innovations in the field of alternative drive-train technologies, new aircraft concepts and sustainable alternative fuels.

To achieve the above, the Councils call on the Dutch government to take a pro-active stance and show leadership, in and with Europe. With respect to international aviation Europe is already taking the lead, by its intention to include aviation in the European emissions trading scheme. This is a first step in the right direction. Similar steps should also be taken for ocean shipping. The Councils recommend that the Netherlands take initiatives of its own, preferably in collaboration with the transport sector. One option would be for this country to index the recently announced kilometre charge to vehicle CO2 emissions, with cleaner cars paying less.

More vigorous climate policy is not only essential. It will also create opportunities for European and Dutch companies and knowledge centres, with those that come up with new products and services gaining a sustainable first-mover advantage in the global marketplace. And a head start will bring not only commercial benefits but, most importantly, climate benefits, too.