The Drive for Sustainable European Road Transport: Science, Evidence, Politics and Power

Road transport forms a central component of modern lifestyles and is allegedly a critical driver of economic growth at the EU level. Yet it is also politically contentious because of its potential impact on climate change, the environment, public health and energy security, amongst a range of other things. To take one example, EU greenhouse gas emissions from transport rose 29% between 1990 and 2009, with road transport accounting for around two-thirds of these emissions by the end of that period.

In response to such unsustainable trends, the European Commission's 2011 White Paper on Transport consolidated numerous individual policy measures (aimed at reducing the GHG emissions embedded in road fuel, improving vehicle engine efficiency, and accelerating the development of alternative propulsion technologies such as biofuels) with an overall target of reducing the transport sector's GHG emissions by 60% compared to 1990 levels by 2050.

Despite such an ambitious commitment however, significant disagreements about road transport policy persist in Brussels, not just over matters of fact (where actors might for instance question which propulsion technologies are the most energy efficient or cost-effective), but also in the realm of values (where the necessity and desirability of purported future road transport regimes is instead at issue).

Against this backdrop, this research project uses in-depth qualitative research methods - including semi-structured interviews and documentary analysis - to address three central questions about the nature of European policy-making processes relating to sustainable road transport, and indeed about the interactions of evidence and policy in Brussels more broadly:

  1. Through what kinds of formal and informal processes are European sustainable road transport policies - specifically on road vehicle efficiency and alternative fuels development - formulated and modified?
  2. How are scientific evidence, knowledge and expertise of various kinds conceptualised in debates about sustainable road transport policy in Brussels, and in what ways do they interact with specific policy and political processes?
  3. In what kinds of ways, and with what consequences, do ideas, political interests and institutional factors interact to establish the broader public meanings and normative purposes of Europe's sustainable road transport policies?

Further Information

For more information and output from this research project, please contact Dr James Palmer.