An E.U. body has outlined a plan to phase out most fossil-fueled cars by 2050.
Europe already has among the highest fuel taxes in the world, and Europeans are already used to smaller cars, more transit and more walking than elsewhere in the developed world.
Yet in a white paper released Monday, the European Commission said that to meet climate goals by midcentury, gasoline- and diesel-run cars must disappear from cities.
The white paper outlined a complete transportation strategy that probably ranks as the world's most ambitious effort to cut oil use and greenhouse gas emissions.
"Action cannot be delayed. Infrastructure takes many years to plan, build and equip -- and trains, planes and ships last for decades -- the choices we make today will determine transport in 2050," the paper says.
The commission doesn't make European law; rather, its report will be received by the European Parliament, whose members are elected by the public and which can set laws for the 27 E.U. countries.
But as the executive agency of the European Union, the commission does have the power to deliver some parts of its vision.
The European Commission said Europe needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent beneath 1990 levels, or more, by 2050. To keep pace, the transportation sector would have to cut 60 percent of emissions.
To get there, the white paper envisions a "Single European Transport Area" that tears down barriers between different countries and different modes of transport.
Tearing down multiple barriers
Michael Replogle, global policy director and founder of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, said the commission is well-positioned to deal with the patchwork of policies between countries.
Truckers, for example, face different fees -- and even different kinds of tolling machines -- each time they cross a border. "The Germans use one system; the French use another system; the Swiss, who are not part of the European Commission, use yet another system," he said.
Another issue: Europe is known for an efficient rail system, but Replogle said countries have put down rails of different sizes, hampering plans to build a cross-E.U. high-speed rail system.
"And so in setting out a bold vision like this, looking 40 years into the future, I think the EC is appropriately looking at what barriers need to be overcome," he said.
Other parts of the plan probably sit beyond the commission's reach -- and they've already taken flak. In cities, the European Commission paper calls for more transit, walking and biking, as well as more "congestion pricing" schemes that charge drivers for entering a city's core.
Even delivering packages could become low-carbon: Trucks should go as short a distance as possible and be hybrids or electric cars.
Mid-range travel -- over 300 kilometers, or about 185 miles -- should turn over half its passengers to rail, which moves a person for less energy and emissions than a car does.
For longer distances, airplanes' speed and efficiency are difficult to beat. Here, the commission recommends that by 2050, 40 percent of their fuel should be low-carbon.
By 2050, seaports, railways and highways should all be connected in one smoothly flowing system, enabling Europeans and their goods to move with the smallest carbon dioxide signature possible.
This is all part of a campaign to "align market choices with sustainability needs (and to reflect the economic costs of 'non-sustainability')," the white paper says.
Europeans have received that vision with skepticism and even sarcasm.
As likely as 'rectangular bananas'?
"We will not be banning cars from city centers any more than we will be having rectangular bananas," the United Kingdom's transport minister, Norman Baker, told the BBC.
Baker said the European Commission doesn't have a say in how cities design their transport systems.
Even Jos Dings, director of a European environmentalist group called Transport & Environment, criticized the European Commission plan as doing too little in the near term. He said the commission's only concrete plan in the paper is to expand airports between now and 2014.
"Plans to tackle harmful subsidies and to develop greener transport pricing are up to five years away. In short, this is a manifesto for inaction," he said in a statement.
The European Automobile Manufacturers Association warned that banning cars will just leave people stranded, because there are some jobs that trains and planes just can't do. The group said to focus on making each mode of transportation more energy-efficient -- not switching people from one mode to another.
"No transport mode is by default better from an environmental point of view than another," EAMA said in a release.
Hendrik Abma, executive director of the Association of European Rail Infrastructure Managers, thought differently: As he told European Voice, the paper is "the right political signal at the right time."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500