Transport still going the wrong way

May 20, 2010

A report for the German government says a range of measures, headed by traffic avoidance, needs to be adopted if transport is to make a meaningful contribution to fighting climate change. The report comes as the latest TERM report on the environmental performance of Europe’s transport shows polluting modes are still rising.

The study by Germany’s Federal Environment Office (UBA) looks into how carbon dioxide from the transport sector could be reduced. Although the findings are based on national data from Germany, they are broadly applicable in other countries.

The eight authors say five complementary methods have to be adopted at the same time: traffic avoidance (effectively reducing transport demand and shortening distances), modal shift, optimising transport, economic instruments, and vehicle emissions reduction.

They set out the potential for all available measures, and conclude that if 50-80% of the potential was realised, CO2 from transport in Germany could be reduced by up to 87 million tonnes a year by 2020 and up to 103 mt/y by 2030. And they warn that no significant reduction in traffic-related CO2 emissions can be expected if current transport trends continue.

The report’s basic premise – that the benefits of cleaner technologies are being offset by increasing journey distances – has been confirmed in the latest TERM report from the European Environment Agency (EEA). The Transport Environmental Reporting Mechanism is now 10 years old, and its latest report suggests trends are still worrying.

Road and air freight both grew faster than the economy between 1997 and 2007, while the market share of rail and inland waterways declined over the same period. On passenger transport, airlines increased their numbers by 48%, while passenger demand for rail remained steady in western Europe and declined in eastern Europe.

‘Transport is still heading in a totally unsustainable direction,’ said T&E director, Jos Dings, ‘but governments no longer have the cash to invest in expensive infrastructure. The best way out of these twin crises is to adopt pricing schemes that bring in money and improve efficiency, and at the same time cut all subsidies to high-polluting modes such as aviation.’

Eleven EU members say they will exceed their limits for nitrogen oxides this year, with seven of them (Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Spain) expected to exceed their 2010 NOx ceiling by more than 10%. The limits are set in the National Emission Ceilings directive, and the latest estimates are published by the EEA.