Innovation and research are often described as prerequisites to achieving a resource-efficient, environmentally friendly and seamless transport system in Europe, catering for citizens’ and businesses’ growing mobility needs and the requirements of a low-carbon and climate-resilient society. They are also a means of securing the competitiveness of the European transport industry.
The transport sector relies heavily on fossil fuels, which account for 96% of its energy needs, and contributes up to 25% of all greenhouse-gas emissions in Europe, a situation which has important implications in terms of costs and pollution. The EU is committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, with the goal of limiting climate change to an increase of less than 2°C. Therefore, a reduction of at least 60% of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 (with reference to 1990 levels) is required from the transport sector.
The transport sector is also an important driver of the European economy, but is increasingly confronted with global competition. Innovation is needed in order to remain a world leader in this field.
In 2008, corporate transport investments, in particular from road-transport industries, represented 90.4% of overall investment dedicated to transport-related research and development (R&D). Member States’ public funds represented 8.2%, and the EU (through the Seventh Research Framework Programme) accounted for 1.4%. Transport companies based in the EU were responsible for a major share (over 40%) of worldwide transport-related R&D investment, ahead of Japanese and US-based companies.
Main EU initiatives
The 2011 Transport White Paper emphasised the importance of innovation for the future of transport, and called for joint European efforts in areas such as clean vehicles, sustainable alternative fuels, technologies to improve safety and security, intelligent infrastructure and sustainable urban mobility. Research and innovation (R&I) in the field of transport is also to be set under the broader umbrella of the Europe 2020 strategy.
Financial resources for R&I will, in particular, be provided under the proposed EU framework research programme for 2014-2020 (Horizon 2020), which includes specific provisions on “smart, green and integrated transport”. The four main priorities of Horizon 2020 for R&I in the transport area are: resource-efficient transport that respects the environment; making transport and transport systems seamless, i.e. better mobility, less congestion, greater safety and security; reinforcing the global competitiveness and performance of the European transport industry; and socio-economic research and forward-looking activities for policy-making.
In September 2012, the Commission adopted a Communication summarising R&I in the EU transport sector and its shortcomings, and presenting initial proposals on how to tackle them. This Communication and the associated Staff Working Document are presented as the starting point for the elaboration of a European strategic transport-technology plan. They would also be the basis for preparing roadmaps, with the involvement of stakeholders, covering in particular the whole innovation chain, from research to market uptake. The aim is to ensure a coherent approach across different sources of funding for R&I in the field of transport for the next EU financial programming period, and to speed up the deployment and market uptake of new transport technologies.
The European Parliament is due to give its views on promoting a European transport technology strategy for Europe’s future sustainable mobility, based on a report from the Committee on Transport and Tourism (rapporteur: Michael Cramer, Greens/EFA, Germany).