Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) 2008
The current global economic crisis has brought into sharp focus the need to know more about the true costs of our economic activity. It has also taught us the fallacy of building an economy that is not transparent and based on debt.
Our economic models have led to open markets and free trade, but they have also pushed our environment and natural resources to the limit.
A significant cause for concern is carbon which still lies at the heart of our current economies; its increase in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide is driving the changes we all see in the global climate.
It is indisputable that the source of much of this excess in carbon emissions comes from transport. Whilst transport has traditionally been a motor of material wealth in Europe, it too has also been built on unsustainable foundations and needs to change.
Importantly, transport affects more than just our climate. It has been disproportionately responsible for the many negative impacts on our environment - for example - air quality and noise.
Of course, much of this we already know. As far back as 1995 the European Commission first proposed transport charging in an attempt to bring about the internalisation of external costs.
It is not about punishing transport with environmental measures, but rather, a matter of ensuring we use transport in the optimal, and most sustainable way.
But if we are to secure a sustainable, stable future for the economy and society we need to act now. Governments across the world have been striving to avoid a deepening global recession; involving sums so vast that most of us are unable to comprehend the figures involved.
Whilst we appreciate the need to stimulate the economies in question, we must also ensure that the underpinning policy decisions taken are based on long term sustainable solutions. We should avoid making the mistakes that could undermine the very progress we wish to see in the transport sector.
The organisation I direct - the European Environment Agency - has a key role in ensuring the EU and its citizens can make the changes our environment needs.
We are required to support sustainable development and help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment, through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information.
Today, as part of that mandate and to give an illustration of the challenges we all face, I would like to share with you some of the results from our ‘Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism’ (TERM) report which we are releasing today.
Since 2000 TERM has been the annual publication from the EEA which monitors progress and effectiveness in integrating transport and environment strategies and seeks to offer important insights to aid the development of EU policies.
Report key conclusions
Although there is growing awareness of the transport sector’s disproportionate impacts on the environment, the report shows that there is little evidence of improved performance or a shift to sustainable transport across Europe. In particular;
Freight transport continues to grow, with the largest increases being for the least energy efficient transport modes - road and air freight.
The total volume measured in tonne-kilometres for EU member states increased by 35 % between 1996 and 2006. Rail freight and inland waterways, by contrast - and even if they registered slight increases of 11 % and 17 % respectively - saw a decline in market share overall.
Travel by road and air has continued to increase throughout EEA member countries.
Between 1995 and 2006 car ownership levels in EU-27 increased by 22 % (or 52 million cars), and passenger car use increased by 18 %.
Although the number of kilometres travelled by passengers in EEA member countries only grew by 1%, from 2005 to 2006, this still represents 65 million extra kilometres travelled.
The EU Energy and Climate Package which has set a 20% overall reduction target for greenhouse gasses by 2020 has highlighted the need for the transport sector to contribute to this target.
In the EU 27 - driven by the growth in transport volume, emissions have increased by 27% between 1990 and 2006 (excluding international aviation and marine).
If we did include international aviation and marine this increase would be close 36%.
Emissions of regulated air pollutants from vehicles continue to be reduced across EEA member countries, but concentrations remain high in some urban areas.
Despite a reduction in road transport exhaust emissions across Europe, there have been no significant improvements in concentrations of fine particulates (PM10) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which has a major impact on air quality and human health.
Many of us here who have lived in large cities will know that large numbers of people are exposed to transport noise levels, which can affect their quality of life and health.
Road traffic is by far the main source of exposure to transport noise. Almost 67 million people - 55 % of the population living in agglomerations with more than 250 000 inhabitants - are exposed to daily road noise levels exceeding 55 decibells.
Decoupling the impacts of transport
As I noted earlier, the policies to limit the impact of transport on the environment or people have been under discussion for some time.
Importantly our report highlights that signs of decoupling between transport and economic growth – driving the environmental pressure - is extremely limited, and any decoupling that is taking place, can only be found in passenger transport.
Neither do we see any real shift of our freight to rail, inland waterways or short sea shipping.
This has led to transport growth patterns which reflect that transporting freight is cheaper than producing the goods locally, but has failed to include environmental costs in the charges paid.
The environmental effects from transport are well documented. And when we consider that the 2006 Commission White Paper forecasts a 50 % growth of freight transport between 2000 and 2020, we realise that we must do more!
Many car manufactures are currently seeking government support as the economy contracts but despite progress on fuel and CO2 efficiency, road emissions from light and heavy vehicles are still growing.
If the current trends continue, total transport emissions could grow by nearly 50% between 1990 and 2020 – almost all coming from road and international transport. (Road 60%; aviation and marine 39 %).
These trends are patently not sustainable and will undoubtedly threaten the EU objective to reduce overall emissions by 20%, by 2020.
Transport has played a significant role in Europe's economic growth during the recent boom years; more construction, shopping and tourism have all ultimately relied on more transport.
Our global economy is in crisis, and our environment is on the same course. A simple re-boot of our failed economic system will not be sufficient to build the low carbon economy we need to deliver on a post Kyoto agreement.
In essence it is now time for a new economics.
The global economic crisis has shocked us all with its scale and destructive effect, but it also offers us an opportunity to reduce our environmental excesses and design a new economy hand in hand with our climate change and environmental obligations.
At a time when we need to tackle our economic and environmental problems through sustainable and green solutions, trends in transport are pointing in the wrong direction.
Some of the economic stimulus packages being proposed risk perpetuating the negative links between transport and the wider economy. But well designed schemes can reduce transport volumes and realise a shift to less polluting modes of transport without changing the underlying economic activity.
We need to use this crisis - and current conditions of low interest rates and fiscal expansion - to stimulate a low carbon economy truly built on sustainable development principles.
We know that the technology exists to tackle the transport sector's impacts on Europe's environment. However, many vehicles rolling off production lines still have high emissions, the freight sector still favours the least efficient transport modes and railways across the EU have yet to be joined in a unified system.
Significant changes are needed to reverse the trends, and in doing so, we will gain ancillary and co-benefits related to the reduction of noise, air pollution, greenhouse gases and costs.
Transport must be addressed but we must also target the many sectors of the economy where the transport demand originates, including production and consumption.
It is essential that we take up that challenge now and ensure that the next TERM report illustrates that transport is finally on heading in the right direction.
With the right policies transport can change its underlying negative trends, and it can also be at the forefront of a global green recovery.
This document is part of the SOER 2015 product.