Growing transport use offsetting efficiency gains in Europe

While vehicles are getting cleaner in Europe, any environmental benefits are being offset by the fact that more journeys are being made in more vehicles over longer distances.

A report from the European Environment Agency looks at a decade of transport impacts and concludes that while there has been a drop in a number of pollutants affecting air quality, there are serious concerns about the persistent growth in the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, Towards a more efficient transport system looks at all transport, including the often-overlooked shipping and aviation emissions.

It covers the period running from 1997-2007, so does not take into account the bulk of the environmentally-beneficial impact of the recession, which has seen trade, travel and investment in new vehicles drop off as companies and individuals tighten their belts.

“Over the last ten years we have concentrated on measures to improve mobility whilst decoupling transport emissions from economic growth,” said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA.

“Today, we can see that the extensive investment in transport infrastructure has enabled us to travel further to meet our daily needs, but has not led to a decrease in the amount of time that we are exposed to noise, congestion and air pollution.

“In the future we will need to focus not only on the mode of transport, but also the reasons why people choose to travel, because ultimately mobility is inextricably linked to our quality of life.”

Transport accounts for around a quarter of total EU greenhouse gas emissions.

Unlike some sectors, transport’s impact on the environment continues to be closely linked to economic growth.

Key trends and findings from the report:

  • Freight transport tends to grow slightly faster than the economy, with road and air freight recording the largest increases in the EU-27 (43% and 35%, respectively, between 1997 and 2007). The share of rail and inland waterways in the total freight volumes declined during that period.
  • The current economic slowdown has reduced transport volumes but transport is expected to resume its growth as soon as the economy starts to grow again.
  • Passenger transport continued to grow but at a slower rate than the economy. Air travel within the EU remained the fastest growth area, increasing 48% between 1997 and 2007. Car journeys remained the dominant mode of transport, accounting for 72% of all passenger kilometres in the EU-27.
  • In EEA countries, greenhouse gas emissions from transport (excluding international aviation and maritime transport) grew by 28% between 1990 and 2007, and now account for around 19% of total emissions.
  • Despite recent reductions in air pollutant emissions, road transport was the largest emitter of nitrogen oxides and the second largest contributor of pollutants forming particulate matter in 2007.
  • Among 32 EEA countries, only Germany and Sweden are on track to meet their 2010 indicative targets for biofuels use.
  • Road traffic remains by far the largest source of exposure to transport noise. The number of people exposed to damaging noise levels, especially at night, is expected to increase unless effective noise policies are developed and implemented in full.

    Sam Bond

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