The provision, development and maintenance of transport infrastructure – such as roads, railways, ports and airports – is important for society and the economy. However, using land for transport infrastructure inevitably means that it cannot be used for other purposes, including for nature and the ecosystem services that nature provides. In addition, enabling more transport through the provision of more infrastructure has the potential to increase emissions, both of the CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change and of air pollutant emissions. There is therefore a balance to be struck between developing the transport network and protecting the environment. TEPR and Belgian consultancy Milieu have produced a report looking at the extent to which EU financial support for transport infrastructure is consistent with protecting the environment.

EU financial support for transport infrastructure

There are many EU funds that potentially support the development of transport infrastructure. The most significant of these are the funds that support regional development, such as the Cohesion Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, and those that support the development of the trans-European transport network (also known as the TEN-T), particularly the Connecting Europe Facility.

Protecting the environment

At the same time, EU policies aim to protect the environment both for its own sake and to ensure that it continues to provide us with ecosystem services, such as the provision of water, soil and air. To do this, EU policy aims to significantly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and the emissions that cause air pollution; the transport sector is a significant source of both of these. EU policy also aims to protect nature and to ensure that development takes account of the services that nature provides.

Ensuring the consistency of EU policies

In order to ensure that EU financial support for transport infrastructure does not undermine its environmental policies, there is a need to take account of any potential environmental implications when funding decisions are made. This is referred to as ‘mainstreaming’ the environment in transport funds, i.e. ensuring that environmental considerations are given their appropriate level of importance in the decision-making process.

The aim is to achieve this through the way in which financial support is given, and the type of projects that it is given to. For example, EU Member States wishing to receive financial support for the development of transport infrastructure from the EU’s regional funds must have a comprehensive transport plan in place and this must have been subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to ensure that it takes appropriate account of the environment.

In the same way, the focus of the funds that support the development of the trans-European transport network is on supporting projects for modes that have the potential to deliver more transport for less environmental impact.

Evaluating the success of ‘mainstreaming’ the environment in EU transport funds

TEPR and Belgian consultancy Milieu have produced a report for the European Commission that identifies the extent to which previous attempts at mainstreaming the environment in EU transport funding have been successful. It identifies the level of EU transport funds that have been spent on ‘sustainable’ transport projects, i.e. projects that are in line with wider environmental objectives, and explores whether the requirement to apply an SEA to national transport strategies has been a success. It also makes recommendations for improving the environmental performance of future investments in transport infrastructure.

For More Information

TEPR is an independent research consultancy that works on projects to improve the environmental performance of transport. The final report from this project, as well as information on similar work that has been undertaken by TEPR, can be found on our greening transport infrastructure page. Alternatively, for more details about the above project, or our work more generally, contact Ian Skinner at TEPR ( or call +44 (0)7521 063324.

Picture credit: pixabay

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