Europe’s vehicle emissions will increase by 30% in 10 years

The transport sector in Europe will increasingly threaten human and wildlife health, states The European Environment Agency's (EEA) first indicator-based report on transport and sustainable development.

EEA has published the first report to come out of the Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM), which was designed to generate the necessary data to assess transport impacts on Europe’s environment. This follows on from Signals 2000 which seeks to use indicators to assess Europe’s overall progress towards sustainable development (see related story).

TERM 2000 also uses indicators and these show that individual countries and the EU as a whole have been largely ineffective in seeking to reduce transport’s negative impacts. “Until recently, the main instrument used to abate the environmental impacts of transport has been environmental regulation, mainly through the setting of vehicle and fuel-quality standards,” states the report. “This assessment shows that while such ‘end-of-pipe’ approaches have led to progress in certain areas, their benefits are often offset by growing transport volumes and use of heavier and more powerful vehicles.”

Although the transport situation and legislative measures vary from country to country, TERM 2000 says that several broad, common features exist:

  • increasing transport demand
  • rising energy consumption
  • rising CO2 emissions
  • road transport is increasingly dominating the modal mix
  • air transport is increasing

Using indicators to answer seven questions on Europe’s progress towards integrated transport, EEA indicators show that there is little positive movement.

Is the environmental performance of the transport sector improving?

Transport’s share of greenhouse gas emissions is growing because it has improved energy efficiency to a much lesser extent than other sectors. “By 2010, CO2 emissions are expected to increase by a further 30%,” states TERM 2000. The report also points out that progress in reducing nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compound emissions has been eclipsed by growth in traffic volume and, therefore, overall rises.

Data shows that transport infrastructure now covers 1.2% of the EU’s total land area.

Are we getting better at managing transport demand and improving the modal split?

Europe has failed to de-link economic growth from transport volume and TERM 2000 shows that rail, public transport, walking and cycling are losing out to road transport and aviation as transport demand continues to climb.

“The share of car transport increased from 65 to 74% between 1970 and 1997,” while “the share of aviation, still the least energy-efficient of all modes, grew from two to 6.7%,” says TERM 2000.

Are spatial planning and transport planning becoming better co-ordinated so as to match transport demand to the needs of access?

To this question, EEA gives a firm ‘no’, pointing out that as Europeans are becoming more reliant on road transport, they are not necessarily finding it easier to access basic and essential services. EEA does note, however, that spatial planning policies to reduce road transport requirements have been subject to renewed interest “since the early 1990s”.

Are we improving the use of existing transport infrastructure capacity and moving towards a better balanced intermodal transport system?

Road transport infrastructure continues to receive the lion’s share of transport infrastructure spending, and although the EEA identifies “considerable efforts … in some member states to improve the quality of public transport … this has not yet resulted in any major shifts from road transport”.

Are we moving towards a fairer and more efficient pricing system, which ensures that external costs are recovered?

The figures are clear: “car transport is much cheaper relative to disposable income and public transport than it was 20 years ago,” says TERM 2000. Backing up environmental transport groups which argue that road transport is heavily subsidised, the EEA says that “less than half the external environmental and accident costs of road and rail transport are internalised by the relevant taxes and charges that people pay for these services”. Some countries recover more external costs for road and rail transport than others, with France, Austria, Denmark and Spain recovering most.

How rapidly are improved technologies being implemented and how efficiently are vehicles being used?

Technological improvements have resulted in higher fuel efficiency, but other factors have offset these gains. EEA cites heavier and more powerful vehicles, decreasing occupancy rates and low loads as negating energy efficiency gains.

How effectively are environmental management and monitoring tools being used to support policy and decision-making?

EEA identifies “low public acceptance of pricing measures” to reduce road congestion, poor air quality due to vehicle emissions and road noise. Yet these are the three negative impacts of road traffic that the public says are the most severe.

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