2. Environmental space and sectoral policies - the cases of transport and agriculture
The concept of environmental space demands a radical shift in the focus of environmental policies: from symptoms to causes, from outputs to inputs, from local to global challenges. Thereby, it affects much more than what has traditionally been labelled "environ-mental" policymaking. To live within our environmental space, we will need both to radically restructure our economies and to rethink our ways of living, eating and moving about.
All economic and policy-making sectors will need to contribute to these changes. A reasonable starting-point for the thought process on how this should occur, is that each sector should contribute proportionately, i.e. reduce its consumption of resources by the same percentages as are required for the total economy. Obviously, this should not be regarded as a dogma, but a proposition which may need to be adjusted - upwards for some sectors and downwards for others - in the light of experience. A useful aspect of further research on the subject of environmental space would be scenario studies to illuminate the most cost-efficient ways of distributing reductions in resource consumption between sectors.
In this chapter, we shall focus on transport and agriculture - two sectors whose contributions are bound to be of crucial importance, because each of them is responsible for very large shares of our consumption of some or all resources.
"Present trends in road and air transport are all leading towards even greater inefficiency, congestion, pollution, wastage of time and value, damage to health, danger to life and general economic loss..."
5th EU Environmental Action Programme
For almost a generation, transport has been widely recognised as a major source of environmental as well as social problems. This has not prevented them from steadily increasing.
In the light of environmental space, three objections may be raised against the environmentally motivated policies towards the transport sector that have hitherto been conducted in EU countries.
- Firstly, policies have focused strongly on outputs (vehicle emissions, noise, congestion) rather than on inputs (consumption of energy, materials and land).
- Secondly, policies have focused on local, and to a lesser extent regional impacts of transport, while omitting the global level.
- Thirdly, policies have been too weak and/or misdirected even to solve many of the problems on which attention has been focused.
Limited successes have been scored - in decreasing order of degree - in
- reducing lead pollution (by substitu-tion of unleaded for leaded petrol)
- reducing carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon pollution (by requiring, or giving tax concessions for, catalytic converters in new cars)
- containing NOx emissions (by the same means)
- in some places reducing noise distur-bance (partly by imposing noise limits on vehicles, partly by the materials-intensive method of erecting barriers), while in other places disturbance goes on increasing.
Congestion has been countered mainly by building more and broader roads. In general, this has had few lasting positive effects, as new roads have rapidly been filled with the number of vehicles they are able to accommodate.
Meanwhile, the resource consumption and globally important emissions associated with transport have gone on growing without respite.
In recent years, some of the limitations of traditional thinking about transport and the environment have, at least verbally, been recognised by policy makers at the highest levels. At the EU level, this is expressed in the White Paper: The Future Development of the CommonTransportPolicy, COM(92)494 (Commission 1992), delivered shortly after the inauguration of the 5EAP.
The White Paper highlights the well known problems of energy consumption and operational pollution, congestion, land use and risks stemming from the transport of dangerous goods. Moreover, it recognises that technical fixes alone will not solve these problems if transport volumes go on increasing. The White Paper pays considerable attention to charging the full external costs of transport to users, to favour those forms of transport that impose fewer external costs or even to avoid unnecessary movements (p. 38). However only a stepwise approach to this initiative is proposed.
The White paper states:
" the risk of the development of the transport sector being unsustainable in the medium to long term due to its environmental impact remains real." (p.15).
Technical and fiscal measures will need to be supplemented with measures to limit the overall need for mobility and encourage shifts towards more environmentally friendly modes:
"...Promotion of collective transport is a vital component of efforts to integrate environmental objectives into transport policy especially with regards to improving the urban environment. Public and private investment will be essential to promote collective transport as an alternative to the private car. " (p.62).
" .Improvement of environmental efficiency of transport infrastructure requires careful assessment of the environmental impact at the planning stage of transport infrastructure, according to common criteria, with the possibility of other options. " (p.64).
However, the environmental message is qualified by others, especially the concern that " imbalances and ineffi-ciencies threaten to damage the Com-munitys development, slowing the process of economic integration and adversely affecting its international competitiveness. " (p.31).
And while the White Paper does recog-nise a number of important environ-mental problems, among which energy and land consumption, no mention is made of materials consumption by the transport sector.
Above all, there are no quantitative targets, be it for the reduction of transport volumes, of resource consump-tion or even of outputs. Even verbally, the level of ambition is to "correct environmental inefficiencies and improve the environmental performance of the transport sector" (p.59), whereas the need is quite clearly to drastically reduce inputs as well as outputs.
More importantly, the call for a reorientation of transport policies, aimed at limiting transport volumes and encouraging large-scale modal shifts towards more environmentally friendly modes, has still to be followed up in practice. Billions of ECU are still being poured into the expansion of road and air transport infrastructure. Concern over energy consumption and CO2 emissions has not led to significant increases in taxes on car fuels. (Of the 10 countries that were members of the EU in 1980, three had lower petrol taxes in real terms in 1995 than 15 years previously. Only in two countries: Germany and the UK, did real taxes increase by more than 30% over the period. Since the pre-tax price of petrol dropped in the meantime, its real selling price was less throughout the EU in 1995 than in 1980. (Eurostat 1996)). And aviation fuels are altogether exempt from tax.
Hitherto, the clearest examples of imple-mented policies directed at driving forces behind traffic congestion and pollution have come from the local level of government, rather than the national or EU level. Such measures have included the development of alternative infrastructure (from cycle lanes to new rail links), pricing of roads and of parking, closing of streets or districts to car traffic, subsidies for and improve-ments to public transport.
Locally, such policies have sometimes been successful in dampening the growth in urban car traffic. Perhaps the most impressive single example of this comes from Freiburg in Germany, where car traffic has not grown at all since 1976, while it has grown by some 70 percent in western Germany as a whole. However, as the same example illustrates, such local and partial successes have been scored against a backdrop of steady reverses.
Transport policies that are designed to ensure compliance with environmental space will need to be different from those which have been designed mainly to relieve local environmental pressures. This does not only apply to the strength of measures that need to be imple-mented. In some cases, it will mean a reordering of policy options and priorities.
Today, transport is, together with buildings, one of the two largest "consumers" of all three major cate-gories of resources: energy, materials and (built-up) land. A few figures may serve to illustrate this.
- In 1970, transport accounted for 17% of final energy consumption in EU-15. In 1995, this had increased to 29% (IEA). Over the period, transport energy consumption doubled, while consumption for non-transport purposes grew by slightly more than 10%. These figures refer to direct energy consumption only. In Norway, for instance, it has been estimated that the energy required to supply the country with transport equipment and to construct and maintain infrastructure, equals one-quarter of direct energy consumption by transport (Hille 1995).
- Production of transport equipment and infrastructure typically accounts for between 20 and 40 percent of consumption of major materials, including aggregates, cement, steel and aluminium.
- In 1990 road and rail networks alone claimed 1.3% of the land area of the EU-12. This is an absolute minimum estimate, including only carriageways and not, for instance, parking space. More inclusive figures for transport systems in Germany (Statistisches Bundesamt 1994) and France (Casagrande and Piveteau 1994) are much higher, viz. 4.6% and 2.5% respectively - which still does not include areas subject to noise and other disturbance by transport. In both countries, transport networks represent some 30 to 40 percent of the total built-up area, and in both, it has grown by close to 1% annually since 1980.
There is also a close dialectic relationship between growth in transport and in consumption of land, materials and energy for construction and operation of buildings. This is especially true in urban areas. More (auto)mobility permits urban sprawl; conversely, as dwellings and services spread out, the need for mobility increases further.
From 1982 to 1994, the amount of land devoted to dwellings and services in France grew by 30%; in Germany, land devoted to buildings and gardens grew by 25% from 1979-93. Behind such trends is not only the growth of actual building space, but also a growing preference in many countries for detached or semi-detached houses. Both factors lead to more materials and energy consumption. This partly explains why, despite better weather-proofing, residential and commercial energy consumption in the EU grew by over 40% from 1970 to 1993. In Germany, construction and maintenance of dwellings alone is estimated to account for one-sixth of total "material input" (Behrensmeier and Bringezu 1995 a, cf. fig. 3). Such figures highlight the need for coherent policies, targeting transport and building construction at once, if we are to live within our environmental space. In particular, they point to an enhanced role for urban planning.
In Chapter 1, we concluded that the estimates of environmental space given in "Towards Sustainable Europe" may be taken as indicative of the order of magnitude of reductions in resource consumption that are required in the EU. This means reducing per capita energy consumption by the order of 50%, consumption of mineral resources by the order of 90%, and calling a halt to the expansion of built-up land.
From the figures quoted in the last paragraphs, it is evident that none of these goals is likely to be achieved, unless there are substantial reductions in resource consumption by transport. We have chosen, as a starting-point, to assume that the reductions in this sector should be proportionate to those in the economy as a whole.
A central implication is that future policies towards the transport sector must aim to reduce consumption of all categories of resources (i.e. not just energy, which has hitherto attracted most attention - closely linked as it is to direct emissions by transport). Taking account of land and materials consump-tion may in some cases lead to other policy choices than would follow from assessments based on energy alone.
The factors that directly govern resource consumption by transport, and which may therefore be targeted by environ-mental space policies, include:
- total transport volumes (passenger and ton-kilometres)
- the modes of transport chosen
- the inherent resource efficiency of vehicles and infrastructure within each mode
- the capacity utilisation of vehicles and infrastructure
- the operating speeds of vehicles within each mode.
We shall briefly consider each of these factors in turn.
From 1970 to 1990, goods transport volumes in Western Europe grew at an estimated average rate of 2.5% per year - almost exactly in tandem with GDP. Passenger transport grew even faster, at 3.1% (ECMT 1993). In per capita terms, this translates into growth of 1.9% and 2.5% respectively.
If these trends should continue through the first half of the next century, then by 2050 per capita goods and passenger transport volumes will have reached three and four times present levels respectively. There is no conceivable way in which this can be reconciled with environmental space. The first require-ment, therefore, is to limit transport volumes.
Policies leading to compliance with environmental space in other fields, would automatically lead to some reduction in goods transport volumes, since there would be less consumption of primary materials as well as fossil energy sources. Bulk transport of ores, concentrates, quarry products, timber, pulp, coal, oil etc. account for a large proportion of total goods transport volumes today, much of which would disappear if the targets in Table 1 were to be reached1. Policies aimed at reducing primary resource consumption in general, will thus be an important contribution to sustainable transport policies.
On the other hand, short- and medium-range transport of food and piece goods leads to much higher energy and materials expenditure per ton-kilometre than does long-range bulk transport, particularly if the latter is by ship. Also, the observed rapid growth in freight transport since 1970 has occurred in spite of considerably slower overall growth in consumption of bulk materials and fossil fuels. In other words, it has been largely due to other factors, such as the increasing geographical separation of production steps and of finished-goods producers from their markets. Therefore, future policies must also be aimed at shortening distances in goods transport. In the context of the Single Market, this can best be achieved by general increases in the cost of transport - whether directly through taxation, or by reducing investments in infrastructure.
However, limiting motorised passenger transport volumes is of even greater concern. Passenger transport already typically accounts for two-thirds of total transport energy consumption - and probably similar proportions of land and materials consumption - and is growing faster than goods transport. Along with containing urban growth, measures to limit motorised passenger transport may include
- encouraging non-motorized transport
- encouraging a degree of "multi-centrism" in cities which have already sprawled (so that people can find workplaces and services closer to home)
- encouraging tourism/holidays closer to home (admittedly the most difficult for policy-makers to influence)
- encouraging the use of telecommu-nications as an alternative to business travel.
The rapid growth in passenger and goods transport volumes in Western Europe over the past four decades has been accompanied by dramatic changes in the modal mix of both. Simply summarized, the trend has been from ship and rail to road transport of goods and from public (as well as non-motorized) transport of passengers, to car and air travel. In Northwestern Europe (UK, Benelux, Germany, Scandinavia) per capita use of the "old" modes has been roughly constant since the 1960s, so that almost the entire growth in transport volumes has been shared between lorries, cars and aircraft. In Southern Europe, there has still been some growth in rail freight and public transport, but much less than in car and lorry transport.
From the point of view of energy consumption, these modal shifts have been unequivocally negative. At equal capacity utilisation, passenger transport by car demands 2-3 times as much energy as bus or rail transport, while air transport demands 8-10 times more than trains running at 150 km/h, if capacity factors are equal. The energy efficiency of ship and road goods transport depends heavily on vehicle size.
However, for similar kinds of goods, heavy lorries typically require about 50 percent more energy per effective tkm than trains. Small coasters or barges may only be about as efficient as goods trains, whereas larger coasters (5-10.000 dwt) can be up to five times more efficient.
So far, this suggests that policies should be directed at
- moving passenger traffic from private cars to public transport (bus or rail)
- moving freight traffic from roads to railways, ships or barges
- bringing air travellers down to earth.
Are these conclusions still valid, if we take account of land and materials consumption?
The case is most clear-cut, and simplest in the case of cars vs. buses. The amount of materials required to build a 40-seater bus is about 10 times that for a passenger car, but so is its seating capacity. Since the bus will typically have an operating life (in km driven) 2-3 times longer than that of the car, this means that, with equal capacity factors (which is a conservative assumption in urban traffic) the bus is, at a first approximation, 2-3 times more efficient with respect to materials entering into the vehicle. Also, a bus requires only about one-third of the road space taken up by 10 cars, which means that it is more efficient with respect to land as well as materials for infrastructure.
Comparisons between road (car or lorry) and rail transport create more difficulties because the infrastructure, in both cases, must be "split" between freight and passengers. Nevertheless, there is much to suggest that rail transport is superior both to cars and lorries in terms of land use. According to the first-order estimates in the Green Paper on transport, the rail network in the EU-12 occupies only 2.5% of the land taken up by roads. Yet the railways still carried out 17% of all land goods transport in 1991, and 7.5% of land passenger transport in 1988. Without regard to differences in capacity utilisation, this suggests that rail transport in current European practice is 4-5 times more land-efficient than road transport.
There is also no doubt that railway rolling stock consumes less materials (in tons) per passenger-kilometre than private cars (taking account of the lifetime of both). If we still aggregate materials in tons, the materials intensity of railway freight wagons is comparable to that of heavy articulated lorries. Both have a tare weight equal to about half of their maximum payload, and operating lifetimes (in km travelled) are similar. Compared to light road goods vehicles, trains are decidedly more efficient. The few available comparisons of materials consumption for road and rail infrastructure, however, give very divergent results. Here, assumptions about lifetimes, maintenance needs and capacity utilisation are decisive.
Ships in coastal and ocean traffic are land- as well as energy-efficient; the amount of land taken up by harbours is small by comparison with the volume of goods transported by sea. Inland waterways can be quite another matter. The ratio of "tare" weight to payload is poorer for very small ships or barges than for goods trains or heavy lorries - about 1:1 for ships of 500 t - but improves with size, to the order of 1:2 in the 5-10.000 t range. Taking account of operating lifetime (km sailed), however, even small ships are probably more materials-efficient than lorries or freight wagons. (Kordi 1979, Stiller 1995).
Air travel, on the other hand, shows up considerably better with respect to land and materials than to energy. The main reason is simply that aircraft need only runways and terminals at either end of their route, and no infrastructure in between. Certainly, air travel is more land-efficient than car travel, and probably even more land-efficient than railways, although the evidence is patchy. For instance, the total area occupied by airports in France has been estimated at about one-quarter of that occupied by railways (Casagrande and Piveteau 1994) and in Norway at about one-third of that occupied by railways (Aall 1994). Assuming that one-half of the railway infrastructure in both countries can be ascribed to passenger traffic, and that half of the air traffic between these countries and others can be ascribed to their own airports, then land consumption per passenger-km for air travel appears to be about one-third of that for rail in France and one-sixth in Norway. Admittedly, this does not allow for the fact that capacity utilisation of the rail network in both countries is probably lower than of airports.
What applies to land consumption, is al-so likely to apply to materials consump-tion for infrastructure. As for vehicles, an aircraft seating 200 passengers and weighing some 30-40 t may perform some 6-7 billion pkm of transport work during its operating life (Assumptions: 50 million km flown, capacity factor 65%.) This is at least 4-5 times more than can be expected of a passenger train of twice the capacity (locomotive + 7 wagons) weighing ten times as much.
A closer analysis of the relative materials intensity of different modes of transport, which is much to be desired, would need to take account of the relative environmental loads of the specific materials entering into the different kinds of vehicle and related infrastructure. It is nevertheless likely that the broad relationships above would be confirmed, even if specific materials were given (reasonable) environmental "loadings", or were evaluated on a "material input" basis.
The implications of considering all kinds of resource consumption at once, are thus clearest in the case of private cars: compared to public transport, they are inefficient on all counts. The extreme energy cost of air transport remains a strong argument for limiting its use. But if the current very strong volume growth in air transport were simply to be transferred to land modes of transport, this would rapidly lead to unacceptable costs in terms of materials and land. In goods transport, there is a strong case for transferring freight from lorries to railways or inland waterways so long as the latter have under-utilised capacity, whereas this would be less clear if new infrastructure needed to be built.
Like modal choices, policies to improve resource efficiency within each mode of transport should take account of all aspects of environmental space. The limited interest that has so far been shown in the matter, has once more been strongly biased towards energy.
Paradoxically, however, the greatest improvements in energy efficiency over the past quarter-century have been achieved within two of the transport modes that have been least exposed to policy measures that might promote it, namely air and ocean ship transport. In both cases, overall energy intensity has been almost halved. And in both cases, this has been partly a result of better body and/or engine design, and partly of scaling up (a large ship can carry a given amount of freight, and a large aircraft a given number of passengers, with less energy than two or more smaller units). Smaller energy economies of scale have also been scored in long-distance road goods transport.
In passenger cars, achievements have been much more modest. Between 1975 and 1985, specific fuel consumption of new cars on the European market dropped by some 20 percent, but since 1985, there has been no further improvement. The latter is partly due to the fact that manufacturers have used up many of the easy options for improving efficiency - and partly that, since the 1986 oil price drop, consumers have tended to prefer heavier vehicles (fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Development of new-car weight and fuel consumption in Europe
Of course, increasing weight also has a negative impact on the materials inten-sity of car transport. In addition, this will depend on the lifetime of vehicles (which appears largely stable) and the extent to which new cars are produced from recycled materials.
There has recently been some improve-ment in recycling rates, due partly to improved shredder technologies and to policies, including deposit schemes in some countries, to increase the turn-in rate of disused cars. State-of-the-art technology makes it possible to recover almost 100% of the iron and steel and 90% of the non-ferrous metals from scrapped cars.
However, this does not mean that cars have already "done their bit" towards securing compliance with environmental space for materials. For one thing, not all wrecks are yet recycled, certainly not with best available technology. Nor are many of the non-metallic materials usually recovered. More importantly, materials from old cars will not be able to cover 90-100% of requirements for new car production, until the number of cars stops growing from year to year.
Unfortunately, no data are available to permit an assessment of overall changes in the materials intensity of road transport infrastructure.
In cars, fuel consumption can be reduced by to about one-third by substituting fuel cells and electric motors for internal-combustion engines; with additional measures, such as a reversal of the current trend to increasing weight, and further reductions in aerodynamic and rolling resistance, it could be reduced to about one-fourth. Anything much beyond this -
in normal-sized cars - would be stretching the laws of thermodynamics. If we continue to rely on internal-combustion engines, then the potential for energy savings is unlikely to be much more than 50%, compared to light vehicles of today. In diesel-driven lorries, the potential is very much smaller.
In trains already running on electricity, the potential for energy efficiency improvements is also more limited (per-haps 25-30%, including braking-energy recuperation) unless it occurs at the stage of electricity generation.
In the longer term, the question of fuel efficiency potentials becomes more complicated, in that it must be con- sidered in conjunction with that of fuel switching to renewable sources. This could mean either batteries supplied with solar or wind-generated electricity, or hydrogen from the same sources.
In both the long and the short term, moreover, energy efficiency potentials must be considered together with materials efficiency. This is liable to pose major problems, whether we are onsidering (hybrid-)electric vehicles using conventional fuels, straight battery-driven vehicles or vehicles running on solar hydrogen.
- Electric technologies tend to be copper-intensive. From the point of view of "material input" (cf box, p. xx), doubling the copper content of a car from, say, 10 to 20 kg is about as bad as doubling the steel content from 700 to 1400 kg.
- Batteries are even more intensive in materials for which the environmental space is constained. After 130 years of electric-car development, the standard power source remains the lead-acid battery, half a ton of which will give a car a range of 100-150 km. Should European rates of car ownership be extended to the entire world population of 2050, and the cars run on lead-acid batteries, this would demand some 2 billion tons of lead - simply to make the first generation of batteries. This is 800 years of current world mine production and more than is ever likely to be found in exploitable ore-mineral form. Proposed alternatives would require comparable amounts of other scarce metals (zinc, nickel) or present environmental or safety hazards (such as sodium-sulphur batteries).
- Hydrogen storage in whatever mode (compressed, frozen or bonded in a metal hydride) will demand far more materials per unit of stored energy than a conventional fuel tank. The safest solution, the metal hydride, is likely to demand quite large quantities of scarce metals. (A hydride of relatively abundant metals (iron/titanium) is possible, but would require some 20 kg of metal to store the equivalent of one litre of petrol).
If we aim to live within our environ-mental space for materials as well as energy, then technology alone does not appear to offer any "miracle" solutions. And when it comes to saving land resources, it has even less to offer.
Improving capacity utilisation saves all kinds of resources, since it means carrying out a given amount of transport work with less movement of vehicles, and/or more transport on existing infrastructure.
At least, with respect to infrastructure, this applies up to an optimum point, beyond which "improving" capacity utilisation means increasing congestion. This point has already been passed on many stretches of road and many airports in the EU, resulting not in less, but in more energy consumption (cars running extra inefficiently, planes waiting to take off or land.) Much of the European rail network, on the other hand, is underutilised, even along trunk lines which offer direct alternatives to congested roads. This merely strengthens the case for moving car traffic onto the rails.
Capacity utilisation of vehicles should also be an important target for policies. Improving it not only saves energy and materials directly, but also relieves the pressure to spend more energy, land and materials on infrastructure.
Today, the average capacity utilisation of private cars in EU countries averages just over 25% in rush-hour traffic and about 50% otherwise. Outside rush hours, capacity factors of trains and buses are also typically within this range. Also, local road goods transport often operates at very low capacity factors. In long-haul road and rail transport, capacity factors are fairly high - often close to 100% in one direction. The figures drop - to around 60% on average - when one counts return journeys, part of the problem being that there may not be an equal quantity of goods to carry on the return leg, especially not for special-purpose lorries or wagons.
The biggest opportunities for improving capacity factors, then, concern private cars in rush-hour traffic, trains and buses outside rush hours, and short-haul/unspecialised goods traffic. In the case of goods traffic, this may depend on better planning, more co-operation between enterprises doing own-account transport, and a relaxation of "just-in-time" requirements. In the case of public transport, the precondition for improved capacity factors in many areas will simply be an increase in traffic volumes, which would result from a modal shift away from private cars. Ride-sharing in cars should also be encouraged, though as a second-best option compared to public transport.
Although very useful, the realistic opportunities for improving capacity factors will not dramatically increase the amount of mobility to be had within our environmental space. It is worth remembering that travel to and from the job, where the chances of improving capacity factors of private cars are best, only accounts for about one-quarter of private car use in most EU countries.
At the same time, capacity utilisation may not only be thought of as the percentage of seats occupied when a vehicle is in use, but also as the percentage of the time for which it is in use. In the case of private cars, this is approximately 4%. This figure could be considerably increased through car-sharing schemes, in which a large number of households share a smaller number of cars, rather than maintaining one or two each. The advantage of such schemes is not merely that they reduce consumption of cars as such (cars that are used more intensively, will tend to attain a shorter lifetime in years, but nevertheless a longer lifetime in kilometres). The extra dividend in such schemes, whereby participating households share in the full costs of car transport (depreciation, maintenance, insurance etc. as well as fuel) on an "as-you-drive" basis, is that they encourage rational use of cars. Whereas car-owners tend to drive irrespective of the availability of alternative modes of transport, car-sharers will do so only when public transport is unavailable or the car offers specific advantages - say for transporting heavy articles or for weekend outings into the countryside.
One of the most fundamental laws of physics might well be framed above the heads of all transport planners.
It states that:
ek = 1/2 mv2
i.e., kinetic energy varies with mass and the square of velocity. Simply put: The faster you want to get from A to B, the more energy it costs.
In practical life, this rule has its exceptions, because, for instance, internal-combustion engines operate at lower efficiencies below a certain "cruising" speed. Above this speed, however, the rule applies with full force, as it does to high-speed trains or ships.
With respect to land transport, something similar also applies to materials consumption for infrastructure. High-speed road transport demands motorways. High-speed rail transport demands tracks with few and very gentle curves and low grades. Unfortunately, landscapes were not originally designed for the sake of motorways or high-speed trains, so this means that much more earth and rock need to be moved, and much more steel and concrete expended than in building ordinary roads or railways. Thus, a Swiss estimate - drawing on data from Germany as well as that country and explicitly designed to reflect West European conditions rather than those of Switzerland alone - suggests that motorways demand about 15 times more concrete and steel and involve the removal of some 130 times more matter in tunnelling, than the construction of an equal length of second-class roads (Frischknecht 1994).
Something similar is likely to apply to high-speed rail links (>250 km/h). Since they also demand extra land and demand about twice as much energy per pkm as conventional (100-150 km/h) trains, high-speed rail is not, on balance, an attractive alternative to air transport. Rather, the preferred alternative to holiday air travel should be holidays at an appropriately leisurely speed. And the preferred alternative to business air travel should be technology that offers contact at speeds no aircraft can approach - i.e. telecommunications.
In the case of road traffic, some energy savings can be gained by reducing speed limits and better enforcing existing ones, though the figures are not dramatic. A British study (Fergusson 1994) found that the introduction and enforcement of a 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) speed limit on all roads, including motorways, would reduce overall road vehicle fuel consumption by 5%, while a general 80 km/h limit would save 7%.
If a policy is to be followed to bring transport within its environmental space, then all categories of resources must be taken into account. Such a policy would begin with the setting of targets for the reduction of energy, materials and land consumption by the sector. If one uses the overall reduction goals of "Towards Sustainable Europe" as a guideline, this means reducing transport energy consumption by half within the next half-century, reducing virgin materials consumption for vehicles and infra-structure by the order of 90%, and immediately calling a halt to the net appropriation of land by transport net-works.
To achieve anything like this, all means of reducing resource consumption must be mobilised. Improving efficiency within transport modes and increasing capacity utilisation may appear most painless. In combination, and if all other factors remained constant, it is technically possible that these strategies alone could reduce overall transport energy consumption by between 60 and 70%. It is presently far from certain that they could yield a 90% reduction in materials consumption; and even if either of these goals could be achieved on its own, it is still less certain if both could be achieved at once. Materials considerations are quite likely to constrain the options for energy savings so much that no more than a 50% reduction in this field is realistic.
What is certain, is that improvements in intra-modal efficiency and capacity utilisation will not suffice if the present negative trends in transport volumes, modal mixes and travel speeds persist.
If we are to live within our environ-mental space, we therefore need a coherent set of policies to counter the demand for more transport, faster transport and more individualised transport. Certainly, this will include the administration of a range of medicines already prescribed for instance in the Green Paper on Transport, though in far stronger doses. For instance, this means strong increases in fuel prices, and the redirection of funds from investments in roads, airports and high-speed rail links, to support for public transport.
But if such policies are to succeed and be accepted, they must go hand in hand with others that address the underlying causes of high transport demand. In part, this means policies promoting resource efficiency in all other sectors, which will reduce goods transport volumes. In part, it means a combination of physical planning and economic restructuring to bring producers closer to their markets and people closer to their places of work and other daily activities. (The role of the agricultural sector in this connection will be discussed in the next section). Last but not least, it means fostering changes of attitude, among businesses as well as private households. In the case of business, this means, among other things, challenging the just-in-time philosophy, promoting co-operation on rational transport solutions and more willingness to exploit the potential of telecommunications. In the case of households, it also means a greater willingness to cooperate (car-sharing, ride-sharing), as well as changed attitudes to holiday and leisure travel: letting the cult of farther and faster give way to that of closer and calmer.
As in the case of transport, agricultural policies designed to secure compliance with environmental space must aim at reducing consumption of energy, materials and land - the latter in several senses -at once. In addition, the sustainable use of water will have a major bearing on agricultural policies in some regions. In general, the goals of reducing materials and energy consumption in the field of food production are convergent. On the other hand, that of reducing land consumption will ceteris paribus put increased pressure on other resources - a conflict which can only be resolved if Europeans are willing to accept substantial changes in their diet. Policies for sustainability must therefore address food consumption as well as methods of production.
Agriculture influences materials consumption in three main ways:
- through its own consumption of inputs (especially fertilisers and lime)
- through its consumption of investment goods (on-farm construction, machinery)
- through its influence on materials consumption in downstream activities (food processing, distribution and marketing).
In particular, the materials consumption involved in packaging, storage and distribution systems depends on the extent to which agriculture is regionally and locally specialised. A higher degree of local self- sufficiency would obviously reduce needs for transport and intermediate storage of food. It could also be coupled with more consumption of fresh and unpackaged (as opposed to processed and retail-packaged) produce, as well as facilitating the re-use of such packaging as would still be necessary. Locally diversified agriculture is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for a high degree of local self-sufficiency in food.
Some progress has already been achieved in reducing EU consumption of chemical fertilisers, partly by restructuring the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) away from production-dependent subsidies towards other forms of support for farmers. In the Scandinavian countries, fertiliser taxes have also been introduced. To achieve compliance with environmental space, these lines of policy need to be radically strengthened and broadened. Consideration should also be given to taxes on heavy agricultural machinery, which not only costs resources but also causes soil compaction and erosion.
As mentioned in the previous section, a higher degree of local self-sufficiency can most obviously be promoted by increasing transport costs. At the same time, the idea of local self-sufficiency ties in well with that of promoting more mixed farming at the level of the individual enterprise. Like reducing external inputs and partly for the same reason, this is very much in line with organic farming practice. Increased support for conversion to organic farming is therefore also a relevant policy measure.
Energy consumption in agriculture only accounts for some 3% of final energy consumption in the EU. However, studies from several industrial countries suggest that the total energy consumption involved in making food available to consumers is some 15-20% of final energy consumption. Besides onfarm consumption, the most important contributions to this figure come from the production of fertilisers and the processing, distribution and marketing of produce. The movement of inputs - including feeds as well as fertilisers - and the production of capital goods also cost energy, though less than the elements previously mentioned.
Reducing consumption of fertilisers - nitrogen fertilisers in particular - will thus be an important contribution to reducing energy consumption in food production. Integrating feed production and stock raising will also have a positive effect (less transport).
So will an increased degree of local self-sufficiency, by reducing energy consumption for transport as well as processing and packaging. (It is important to note that local self-sufficiency is of greater importance in this regard than continental self-sufficiency - although the former would obviously contribute to the latter. Transporting food across Europe by lorry can easily cost more energy than transporting the same food by ship from, say, South America.)
The policy measures that are desirable if we aim to reduce materials consumption, therefore agree with the objective of saving energy. In addition to those mentioned, it is worth noting that an overall reduction in the relative importance of animalfood production will reduce materials and energy consumption, not only per unit of food energy produced, but also per unit of agricultural area. This is because the operations involved in "refining" crops into meat and milk (housing and maintenance of animals) demand resources of their own. Also, the processing, distribution and storage of meat and dairy products tends to be more resource-intensive than that of most vegetable products, relative to their nutritional value. This means that changes in patterns of nutrition, which will be necessary if we are to reduce consumption of land as well as fertiliser and other inputs (cf. next sections) are likely to pay an extra dividend in terms of energy and materials.
If one accepts the view of "Towards Sustainable Europe", i.e. that a fraction such as 10% of all original biotopes needs to be set aside for conservation, then obviously some agricultural land in Europe must be allowed to revert to nature. The important point is that this does not mean just any old agricultural land - for instance the "marginal" land already being taken out of production in many countries. It must include land representing a cross-section of all original types of habitat, i.e. including prime agricultural land - and rather large contiguous tracts at that, if the objective of re-establishing diverse and resilient ecosystems is to be achieved. This again will require not merely legislation, but compensation schemes for the potentially millions of people affected, if it is to be socially accepted.
Phasing land out of production also means that, to achieve a given level of production, yields on the remaining land must be higher. This suggests a conflict with the goal of reducing energy and material inputs - a conflict which can only be resolved by accepting a consider-able reduction in production and therefore in consumption of agricultural products. We shall return to this below.
In section 1.2.3, we discussed different views of the environmental space for exploitation of agricultural land. If one takes the view of "Towards Sustainable Europe", i.e. that environmental space is respected if and only if agriculture is conducted on organic principles, then the high road to this goal is obvious: strongly increased support for conversion to organic farming, possibly backed by a ban on other farming practices, to become effective e.g. from 2010.
If one takes a more differentiated view, for instance that sustainable land management should be understood as eliminating net soil loss and re-establish-ing a degree of diversity within the agri-cultural landscape, while reducing but not necessarily eliminating chemical inputs, then the appropriate policy measures may be correspondingly more differentiated.
Important measures aimed at reducing erosion and increasing diversity will tie in strongly, not only with each other, but also with measures aimed at reducing materials and energy consumption. For instance, elements of diversity such as hedgerows, shelterbelts, and natural vegetation along watercourses all counteract erosion. Mixed farming, desirable for several reasons already mentioned, is suited to smaller fields, potentially with semi-natural boundaries between them. An important part of the rationale for very large (and erosion-prone) single-crop fields is to permit the "rational" use of heavy machinery, which itself further promotes erosion as well as costing energy and materials resources. Policies that promote mixed, integrated or organic farming will tend to have a positive effect on landscape diversity and soil conservation as well. They will, however, need to be supplemented with targeted measures to these particular ends.
Taken together, measures directed at bringing European agriculture within its environmental space will lead to a reduction in food output. If one assumes a 10% reduction in yields per unit of gross agricultural area, as does "Towards Sustainable Europe" - then this, combined with a similar reduction in area, will mean a loss of close to 20% in output.
If consumption patterns were un-changed, this would lead to a large increase in net "imports" of land. Even if agricultural exports were eliminated altogether (calculations in TSE suggest that about 11% of agricultural land in the EU is currently used for export production) there would still be addi-tional gross demand for imports, if con-sumption in Europe remained the same.
To bring net imports of land down to zero, Europe would by contrast need either to increase exports (out of her reduced output) or to reduce agricultural imports (by about half, if the reductions were spread equally across all kinds of imported produce). In this way, the total availability of agricultural produce - weighted on the basis of land required to produce the various products - would be reduced by some 30%.
Physiologically, this would present no problem. As the "Sustainable Europe" study shows, Europeans could obtain a nutritionally excellent, though less meat-rich, diet from only 0.17 ha of arable land apiece, plus 0.11 ha of pasture - even after allowing for a 10% reduction in yields. This compares with the 0.3 ha of arable land - in Europe and other continents - plus 0.16 ha of pasture, that each EU citizen currently lays claim to.
However, we have noted that by 2050, global availability of arable land may be down to 0.13 ha per person, so that an equal share-out might mean an even more vegetarian diet - and very little room for consumption of non-food products such as coffee and cotton.
Politically, even the short term and the "Sustainable Europe" interpretation of environmental space - based on con-tinental self-sufficiency - present more of a challenge. In fact, the short term arguably presents the greatest political problems.
In a world in which per capita purchasing power were more or less equally distributed across countries, an equitable global share-out of resources is exactly what would result under free trade. Food would flow from regions with a relative land surplus (e.g. Europe) to those with a relative deficit (e.g. East Asia). If preferences for animal vs. vegetable foods were also equally distri-buted, then the animal-food "quota" would also be rather similar everywhere. (And despite cultural differences, meat consumption does tend to increase markedly with income in most parts of the world).
Under present conditions, with gross income disparities between continents, the problems are quite different. So long as incomes, prices, preferences and trade regimes are unchanged, a reduction in European agricultural output will lead to increased imports. Europeans will demand coffee and cotton at prices that make Third World governments, companies and farmers prefer to grow them, rather than producing more food for home consumption. And European cows and pigs will continue to outbid Africans in the world grain market.
There are three possible short-term solutions: changes in preferences, in prices or in trade regimes. If Europeans voluntarily reduce their consumption of meat, then fodder output in Europe can be reduced without creating added demand for imports. If they voluntarily reduce their consumption of coffee, cotton etc., then demand for these products may be reduced to a level where it is balanced (in terms of land use) by the present level of European agricultural exports. In other words, no new export subsidies will be required to achieve such a balance.
If such reductions in consumption do not come about through changes in preferences, then they could be brought about through taxes. Consumer-level taxes on animal products (mainly produced in Europe) might be admissible under existing international trade agreements, whereas selective taxes on goods that are almost exclusively imported today, would be more likely to be ruled out as hidden trade barriers.
The last possible solution - that of out-right barriers (increased duties or bans) against imports, perhaps supplemented with increased subsidies on exports - would obviously mean the abrogation of existing trade agreements, in particular the results of the Uruguay Round. Apart from such "formalities", increased trade barriers against imports from Third World countries would, at least in the short term, leave many people still poorer and estrange their governments politically.
A fully satisfactory solution to the problem of the "land drain" towards Europe can only be brought about by eliminating its root cause, i.e. the extreme income disparity between Europeans and the majority of the world's population. This, of course, will take time. Europe can contribute to shortening that time, for instance by relieving poor countries of their debt burden, by increasing the level of development assistance and redirecting its content towards the elimination of poverty.
In the meantime, Europeans should begin - the sooner the better - to prepare for a future in which their cattle and pigs will no longer be able to outbid other people for land. They can be encouraged to do so by educational measures as well as by the removal of subsidies, if necessary to be followed by the imposition of taxes, on animal foods.
Ways could also be sought of coupling disincentives to overconsumption of land, with measures aimed at reducing global income disparities. One way of doing this - which might be acceptable to Third World countries - would be to tax consumption of non-food agricultural products, such as coffee and cotton, but at the same time earmark the revenue for additional development assistance - perhaps specifically for projects designed to reduce primary-export dependency. A near model for such schemes exists in the Danish coffee tax, whose proceeds were originally earmarked for industrial co-operation projects with developing countries.
If a policy is to be pursued to bring European agriculture within its "environmental space", it will involve a radical restructuring of the CAP and national agricultural policies, in a direction along which only the first cautious steps have yet been taken. Subsidies which reward high yields and therefore input levels must be replaced by direct support for sustainable farming practices, including organic and integrated agriculture. In addition, tar-geted programmes must be introduced inter alia to secure land to be set aside for conservation; to promote landscape diversity and soil conservation; and to promote energy conservation in agriculture.
At the same time, an environmental space perspective means that neither agriculture nor Europe can be viewed in isolation. Agricultural patterns exert a significant influence on resource consumption in downstream activities. Particular emphasis should be given to measures which have a potential to reduce the latter, including a reversal of the trend to regional specialisation in agriculture.
Above all, policies to promote sustainable agriculture must go hand in hand with policies to promote sustain-able nutrition, as well as sustainable consumption of non-food products from agriculture. Less consumption of animal foods will in itself contribute to reducing energy, land and materials consumption in agriculture as well as in up- and downstream activities. It is also essential, if we are to avoid a situation in which "sustainable agriculture" in Europe turns into increased demand for land in other continents.
The fundamental reason for Europeans' relative over-consumption of agricultural resources - as of other resources - is the extreme income disparity between them and the majority of the world's people. The long-term solution consequently lies in eliminating this disparity. Meanwhile, domestic policies should be guided by the principle that we must begin the adjustment to future realities - the sooner the better.
1: Of the total tonnage of goods entering into cross-border trade within the EU in 1991, fuels made up 26%; ores, metals, minerals and building materials 33%; and other raw materials and semi-manufactures 22%. The remaining 19% was evenly split between manufactured articles and foodstuffs (EUROSTAT 1995, Table 14-2).
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
PDF generated on 28 Mar 2015, 12:54 PM