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OECD Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Transport
Vienna, 4 October 2000

STATEMENT BY Ms. DANUTA HÜBNER, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY OF  THE ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR EUROPE

at the OECD Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Transport,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Many historical references have been made today proving that we are talking about a well-established pan-European process. Allow me to make also a reference to a more recent event. Three years ago, here in Vienna, Ministers for Transport and Ministers for the Environment from all over Europe met to agree on the common problems that Europe faced and to adopt a Declaration and a Programme of Joint Action for solving them. This was the first event of this kind, a major step forward, and much has happened since. Still the remaining challenges are enormous.The OECD work on Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST) has illustrated that transport can be made sustainable, but it will take many years. We know, however, that the longer we wait for a change, the more expensive the path towards sustainability will be. And it has become evident that we must attack the problems from all sides. It is an intergovernmental, and a multisectoral process, but also a process for which we need partners in development - civil society, business and international organizations. And we need a long-lasting political momentum. I see three key areas for action where this momentum is critically needed.

Sector integration

The process that was initiated in 1997 here in Vienna has started to make transport and environment authorities at all levels cooperate more closely. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is grateful for the contribution by many other organisations, including OECD, ECMT, WHO and UNEP, and not the least to our member states, our host country included, for having taken the lead to implement activities adopted in Vienna in the Programme of Joint Action. This conference also serves as a contribution to the implementation of an activity foreseen under the Programme of Joint Action and I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the organizers for having invited all UN/ECE Member States, including those not members of the OECD. Perhaps less visible, but equally noteworthy, are activities initiated to implement the Programme of Joint Action at the national level. We have now established national focal points on transport and environment in 44 Member States of the UN/ECE and this alone has fostered coordination between the authorities of the two sectors. But many countries have gone further and initiated specific programmes to implement the decisions taken in Vienna. I just want to mention one example of a country, which has its capital only some seventy kilometres away from here: the Ministers of Transport and the Environment of the Slovak Republic adopted a Joint Action Plan drawn up on the basis of the Vienna Programme of Joint Action. The Plan lists more than sixty short and medium-to-long-term actions and the responsibilities for implementing these in the different sectors together with a detailed budget totalling almost 3 million EURO. I am convinced that, by initiating activities like these, the Vienna Conference has made a valuable contribution.We all know, however, that only if our work reaches the very practical level of implementation, will we be able to make a difference. The implementation of emission standards, the use of fiscal measures, the restriction of vehicle use in special areas, the development of combined transport, the promotion of public transport and the development of strategic environmental impact assessments are just a few of the many areas where work has started under the Programme of Joint Action and where further progress is necessary at all levels.The Vienna process has been strengthened this year through the creation of an ad hoc expert group that will discuss priorities and assist countries and the lead actors in the implementation of the Programme of Joint Action. We are now planning for the mid-term review of the Programme in 2002. This will give the possibility to examine progress made and, if necessary, redirect some of the activities under way or initiate new ones. Planned as a high-level meeting between the UN/ECE Inland Transport Committee and the Committee on Environmental Policy, the mid-term review will bring these two sectors further together.Since Vienna 1997, a major breakthrough in our efforts for a more integrated approach has been created by the London Conference on Environment and Health organised by WHO. It has added the health sector to the work on transport and environment and helped to create further political momentum to move the work ahead.

I believe that there is a need to go still further and integrate also the work on urban and land-use planning into this process as policies in this area play an important role in bringing us towards sustainability. Such process has to be intensified and extended to all levels including the local authorities. The Meeting of Ministers responsible for Human Settlements development in the ECE region confirmed ten days ago the commitment by the governments – in the form of a ministerial declaration – making human settlements part of sustainable development.

Targets for reducing environmental effects

We all know that much of the pollution is linked to air pollution which is transboundary in nature. In this respect, I would like to highlight the recent Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone, which was adopted in Gothenburg at the end of last year. This agreement is probably the most sophisticated environmental agreement to date. It is based on extensive scientific cooperation and the measures it prescribes are clearly directed at the attainment of environmental sustainability criteria – both for health and ecosystems. Once the Gothenburg Protocol is implemented, the two air pollutants to which transport contributes so much, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are expected to be reduced by 40 % in Europe. What matters is that the Protocol foresees review mechanisms that will allow measures to be tightened until eventually we reach a situation where our environment is fully protected.In a related area, a preliminary assessment, which UN/ECE conducted together with WHO, has concluded that as many as 100 to 400 thousand premature deaths in Europe can be associated to long-range transported particulate matter. A timetable leading towards policy negotiations on this issue has been drawn up under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. Action on fine particulates in Europe is being prepared jointly with the European Union, the US and Canada, and this should continue. We are committed to give high priority to this work. I am convinced that we all appreciate their usefulness of internationally binding legal instruments for our work in this area.

Sustainable transport in urban areas

In addition to the ECE work in human settlements, to which I referred, we have been requested by the London Conference to prepare a report, together with WHO, on further action on transport, environment and health. The report will be finalised over the coming weeks and will be presented to a high-level meeting bringing together the transport, environment and health sectors in spring 2001. One outstanding feature of this report will be the proposal to our member states to start negotiations on a new framework convention on transport sustainable for the environment and health which would help local authorities to develop transport systems for their citizens that provide the necessary access to goods and services without compromising their health and environment.

Conclusion: Call for joint and coordinated action

To conclude let me say that the EST project has presented to us a clear vision of the future. It demonstrates in which direction we must move and how far we still have to go. It has also provided examples which illustrate that sustainable transport can be achieved. The longer we wait, however, the more our societies will have to bear the costs of continued environmental damage and suffer the consequences of their health.Technical solutions to our problems can bring us a long way forward and should be further pursued. But analysis shows that, by themselves, technical fixes are not sufficient to make transport sustainable. Some of the changes needed are more fundamental, requiring changes in thinking and in some basic habits. The changes will affect lifestyles and require very solid political support. They have to be presented with a clear vision of the future to effectively create an awareness among the public and thereby move towards a healthy society for future generations. For that we need partners in the business community and in the civil society. Working together is a must.The UN/ECE is committed to continue and strengthen its contribution through the work of both its environment and transport divisions, and to work in close collaboration with all our partners towards the vision that has been so well developed by the OECD.

Thank you very much.


© United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe – 2013