More mobile society makes bigger footprint on environment

Our increasingly mobile lifestyles come with a cost and as the number of journeys made by Europeans continues to rise we are causing more damage - and it is the environment which is picking up the tab.

A report published by the European Environment agency this week, Transport and environment 2005: Facing a Dilemma, shows that as more goods and more people are being transported farther and more frequently across Europe we are paying the price in terms of health, air pollution and Kyoto targets.

The report shows that the success of efforts to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors is being undermined by the ever-rising emissions from transport.

According to the report the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have increased by more than 22% between 1990 and 2003 and there is no indication that this increase is slowing.

“Transport, especially road transport, is becoming cleaner because of increasingly strict emission standards and improved technology,” said Prof Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA.

“However increases in demand continue to outstrip positive innovations. We are locked into patterns that are not easily changed in the short term.

“Long term policy initiatives are needed to encourage people to change their habits.”

The rate of rising emissions has varied enormously from country to country.

Ireland has experienced an increase of 130 % in greenhouse gas emissions from transport – excluding aviation and maritime – a reflection of its economic growth.

Germany, on the other hand, has experienced only a 5 % increase, consistent with its economic experience, the report says.

As has been reported elsewhere, recreational aviation really took off during the period covered by the report with the number of passenger flights almost doubling from 1990 to 2002, while the share of road and rail remained constant.

In comparison, land-based passenger transport is up 30% on 1990 figures while freight is up 34%.

As well as carbon levels the report looks at the impact particulates, nitrous oxide and other tailpipe emissions are having on air quality.

It recognises that transport cannot be held solely to blame for poor air quality and its influence on human health but said its effect was greater than it appeared by simply glancing at the figures, as most emissions from transport are released at ground level in built up areas where they are most likely to cause harm.

And while research into alternative fuels is important, use of so called ‘bio-fuels’, on a scale where it will significantly reduce total greenhouse gas emissions, will not be a reality for many years.

In the meantime, transport will continue putting pressure on the continent’s environment, the report says.

The report can ordered from the EEA website.

By Sam Bond

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