Need to decarbonise transport

Policies needed to stimulate behavioural changes.

A recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) analyses the evolution of the EU’s transport sector (freight and passengers) and its impacts on the environment since 2000. It notes, for instance, that transport is the only main economic sector for which greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased over the last few decades.

In 2013, transport accounted for almost one-quarter of the EU’s total GHG emissions (one-fifth excluding international aviation and maritime emissions). Passenger cars contribute almost 45 per cent and heavy-duty vehicles a further 20 per cent of the transport sector’s emissions.

Transport emissions of three important air pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter) decreased in the period 2000 to 2013. However, particularly for nitrogen oxides from diesel cars, but also for carbon dioxide, there is an increasing difference between official emission measurements done in laboratories and real-world driving emissions.

Another concern is the increasing dieselisation of Europe’s vehicle fleet. The fraction of road transport fuel that is diesel has continued to increase, and in 2014 it amounted to just over 70 per cent, compared with 52 per cent in 2000.

A sharp fall in freight demand occurred after the 2008 economic crisis and, following a limited recovery, freight volumes have since remained largely stable. In 2013, total freight transport was 7.3 per cent higher than in 2000. In the same time period, the number of passenger-kilometres increased by 8.4 per cent.

The report concludes that a decarbonisation of the transport sector will require not just technological solutions but also policies that stimulate significant behavioural changes, including the correct pricing of transport externalities and planning approaches that stimulate the use of more sustainable modes of transport.

Despite EU policies designed to encourage greater use of less polluting transport modes, car transport remains the dominant mode of passenger transport and air transport is the fastest growing mode of passenger transport.

As improvements in energy efficiency alone are insufficient to reduce transport’s environmental impacts, a modal shift must be a central element in the EU’s decarbonisation ambitions. Achieving a modal shift would require significant investments in infrastructure, complemented by other measures to promote more environmentally friendly transport models.

The report “TERM 2015, Evaluating 15 years of transport and environmental policy integration” (Dec. 2015) 

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