Most of the present strategic environmental assessments do not take into account properly the variety of the environmental impacts, or are using markers, indices and more generally tools which do not represent the impacts. A correct representation of the whole range of impacts is necessary to ensure that sustainability takes into account environmental issues to a satisfactory degree. This is especially important for the transport sector where the concerns and the stakes are important.
The main objective of the action is to design harmonised methods to build better environmental indicators by using existing European indices, and to build methods to be applied to the decision making process of the transport sector in the different European countries, in order to contribute to a systemic approach to environmental and transportation issues.
Besides and beyond the previous COST 350 activity more focussed on the user's point of view, this action deals with the scientific analysis and design of tools for environmental impact assessment, focussing on the representativeness of the methods, either for evaluating sub-impacts such as health impacts, or for aggregating by a multi-criteria analysis the different sub-impact indices. The output will be valuable for policy analysts (forecasting or back-casting), transport planners, decision-makers, etc.
Finally the objectives of the action are:
- To analyse the methods applied and the results obtained
- To make a synthesis of the available data and to develop appropriate tools
- To co-ordinate research
The objectives and the initial work programme of COST 356 are described in detail in a so-called Memorandum of Understanding or MoU.
The structure (as the MoU) organises the work in 3 parts: An initial methodological part (network building, methodological building), the core of the scientific work (indicators as measurement tools, integration in the decision making), and a final part (research needs, synthesis, dissemination).
The core of the scientific work is organised in one WG (WG2) working from the environmental or natural science point of view, discussing what impacts are important and relevant, and how they could and should be described and measured within an indicator system, while the other WG (WG3) starts from the planning and decision making point of view, discussing indicator requirements from that point of view, and then discusses this related to options and methods used today. Even if the work is split in two WGs, an important part of the work is to be found in the room between the agendas of the groups. What is the gap between the WG views on indicator requirements etc., how can it be closed or reduced? For that, both approaches must be described in detail and analysed before being compared in task 3.3 and 4.2.
The main outcomes and achievements of the Action generally are its contributions to strengthen the scientific and methodological foundations for taking environmental sustainability into account in the transport area through using indicators. These foundations encompass the full scope of environmental impacts, the full range of transport modes, and the full variety of transport policy, planning and decision making situations.
A significant innovation has been to address indicator based assessments along three complementary methodological axes:
- indicators from a measurement as well as a decision making point of view
- indicators for individual impacts as well as joint consideration across impacts
- selection as well as building of indicators
The main significance and potential impact of the work is its contribution to strengthen the foundations for the use of indicators and joint consideration methods for the assessment of environmental sustainability impacts of transport. So far there has been limited comprehensive guidance on how to select and define indicators to assess environmental impacts of transport, and for choosing the proper methods of joint consideration of transport impacts, taking into account the decision context. This means that environmental assessments of transport and environment are often undertaken in a way that lacks explicit justification in terms of which impacts are considered, which indicators are used to assess them, and which methods are used to come to an end result. This could jeopardize the accuracy as well as the legitimacy of such assessments. In practice often only very few impacts are considered, and the indicators used are often not precisely informative about the final environmental impacts. The work of COST 356, and the recommendations given in the final report, could be applied to improve this situation, leading to a more systematic and comprehensive consideration of environmental impacts form transport at local, national and European level, and this to a more sustainable transport system and more sustainable transport policies.
at times a real interdisciplinary research exchange took place between social and natural sciences, a wide ranging state-of-the-art was conducted; most of the chapters of the final report are the results of collaborative work between social and natural scientists. There was a good spread of representation from Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Europe; there was also a good gender balance, and some presence of younger researchers. There were several senior people involved with experience from previous COST Actions.
The work carried out have nevertheless certain limits:
- The research did not involve a sufficient range of scientists to undertake assessment of indicators for all causal chains, only a few were assessed. This can lead to development of concept failing to cover the variety of impact processes.
- There is a need to continue and complete the assessment of indicators for all the chains, involving wider circles of researchers and possibly users in the context of methods for scientific and societal validation
- The interdisciplinary research is a necessity in the field of indicators of environmental sustainability in transport, but needs very long exchanges between disciplines, as the ways of thinking are different. The duration of the research was maybe too short to build efficient environmental indicators based on the whole set of knowledge and paradigms involved.
- There could have been more Short Term Scientific Missions; the emphasis was not strong enough in the earlier phases of the work.
- Efforts to connect with the practice community and key institutions that could help to carry on and apply the work on indicators for environmentally sustainable transport could have been stronger or earlier developed.
- There were some participants whose capacity was not utilized to the full or who did not manage to contribute to the actual work, some of the funding for the Action could thus be characterized as ‘tourism’; there were limited opportunities for the Chairmanship to control for or discourage such a situation.