Outlook 2005-2010: Projections and scenarios for mobility, environment, health and economy with respect to regulated pollutants and noise in EU25 and in the 31 EEA member states. Business as usual vs. sustainability scenarios

Speech Published 03 Oct 2005 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Speech at the Austrian Parliament, 3 October 2005

Austrian Parliament, 3 October 2005

Outlook 2005-2010: Projections and scenarios for mobility, environment, health and economy with respect to regulated pollutants and noise in EU25 and in the 31 EEA member states. Business as usual vs. sustainability scenarios

Professor Jacqueline McGlade
Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Speech at the Austrian Parliament, 3 October 2005,

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,

First let me thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I would like to speak to you today about the long standing issue in the European Union of the coupling of transport growth to economic growth.

Even though it is European policy to strive to decouple growth in transport volumes from economic growth, some consider that the two are thought to be so tightly linked as to make it impossible to decouple them without significantly harming the economy.

To this end, the European Environment Agency has been looking in detail at the driving forces behind the growth in transport. The results are published in our transport and environment reporting mechanism - or TERM as we normally call it.

We have found that most people are highly conservative when it comes to transport. They seem to have a more or less fixed time budget as well as a fixed share of their income devoted to transportation. Over time, improvements to the transport system allowing people to travel faster are likely to be absorbed by people taking longer or more frequent trips.

Some observers have gone so far as to state that it is actually supply of infrastructure that creates transport demand, rather than demand requiring an expansion of infrastructure. This has certainly been true of the enormous amounts of cabling and capacity that were put in place to support the dotcom boom, and which are now allowing a massive increase in digital traffic across the internet.

Unfortunately, apart from the mostly positive impact of transport on the economy, the rapid development and expansion of Europe's transport systems has a led to a wide range of negative impacts. This is complicated by the fact th many of the direct impacts are not borne by the people that are using the networks.

Austria, because of its location on important transport corridors as well as its topography, is strongly affected by these every day. Road freight transport in transit through Austria is concentrated in the few valleys that have proper motorways. But this concentration of traffic in the narrow valleys leads to high concentrations of pollutants that are harmful for ecosystems as well as human health. This is because alpine flora is generally more sensitive to air pollution as the soil layer is much thinner than in lower lying regions.

The fact that air quality in some of these valleys can be worse than urban air quality also has important negative health effects on the people living in the valleys.

But we are not just concerned about air pollution. Noise also has an important adverse effect, as does the fragmentation of the landscape by motorways.

And there is of course the issue of emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global climate change. And again Austria is at the forefront in being confronted by one of the impacts of global climate change: the melting of glaciers. A large part of the Alpine glaciers has already disappeared and may to a much larger extent disappear over the next decades.

Global climate change is to a considerable extent due to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fuel combustion world wide. In the EU CO2 contributes about 80% to total greenhouse gas emissions, which decreased in the EU15 almost 2% between 1990 and 2003. Transport contributes about 20% to the total and is the sector with the fastest rising emissions, with an increase by 23% mainly due to increased road transport. These emissions are growing because transport demand is growing faster than the improvements in efficiency of the vehicle fleet.

The Kyoto Protocol requires the EU15 to reduce emissions by 8%, although it is generally recognised as only a first step in combating climate change. Within the so-called EU burden sharing agreement some countries are allowed to increase emissions, while others should decrease emissions, including Austria with a reduction target of -13% by 2008-2012. Many EU-15 Member States are currently not on track to meet their targets.

The EU15 can reach its Kyoto target, but only if Member States actually implement all policies and measures that they are currently planning. Emissions in the new Member States decreased considerably, due mainly to the economic restructuring transition process towards market economies, and thus most new EU Member States are on track to meet their individual Kyoto targets.

In 2003 Austria's emissions were almost 17 % above base-year levels (1990). Road transport is by far the largest contributor to these emission increases, with an increase of 82% between 1990 and 2003. An important reason for this large increase is low road fuel taxes and thus low prices in Austria which encourage "fuel tourism".

Austria is not projected to achieve its Kyoto target with the existing measures within the country, neither with currently planned additional measures. Therefore, Austria plans to use the Kyoto mechanisms, to help reach the target, through projects reducing emissions, e.g. enhancing renewable energy, in other developed countries (so-called Joint Implementation) and projects in developing countries (so-called Clean Development Mechanism). The government has made available an amount of almost 300 million euro for this purpose until 2012, while the total amount allocated in the EU15 as a whole is around 2700 million euro.

In short, although progress is being made it is also important to stress that Austria will need to continue to enhance domestic emission reduction measures.

We must also consider how to address climate change with a view to the long term. At present the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is around 380 ppm and it is growing at a speed of 1-2 ppm per year. Emissions of other greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change are also increasing. It is therefore important to find out how much we can allow our societies to increase the greenhouse gas concentration before the effects on the climate becomes unacceptable.

One could argue that any effect is unacceptable, but the reality is that there are limits to how fast societies world wide can achieve a lower carbon future. We need to develop scenarios and plans that take us from where we are today to a level of stabilisation of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere that might be considered as acceptable.

The EU has set itself the target that global temperatures should not increase by more than 2C above temperatures in pre-industrial times. Until recently this was expected to correspond to a total greenhouse gas concentration of around 550 ppm of CO2 equivalent, of which CO2 alone would be about 450 ppm. However recent scientific insight shows that in order to have a high chance of meeting the EU temperature target, concentrations may need to be stabilised at much lower levels.

Any long term solution to limit climate change would need a global approach to reducing emissions or limit growth in emissions, from all countries. Model calculations show that this would require that global emissions - note that we are talking about global emissions and not just EU emissions - should peak very soon and then rapidly decrease to 15% or possibly even 50% below the 1990 level by 2050. The large range is caused by a great deal of scientific uncertainty about the behaviour of the climate system.

Global discussions on addressing climate change also after the Kyoto protocol period and in the longer term will start at the UN conference on climate change in Montreal at the end of 2005. In preliminary discussions it is often assumed that industrialised countries should reduce emissions more than developing nations. This is for several reasons, including that developing nations should be allowed to catch up with the industrialised countries in terms of development. The EU environment council concluded that EU should strive for reductions by all industrialised countries - compared to 1990 -of 15-30% by 2020 and of 60-80% by 2050.

To achieve such reductions a broad range of coordinated initiatives will be needed globally and also within the EU. Globally, international emission trading should be greatly enhanced. Within the EU, action would include measures to substantially improve energy efficiency, widespread application of lower carbon fuels, in particular renewables, and the extensive use of the new internal EU emission trading system. In addition, removing environmentally harmful subsidies and substantial increases in research and technology development would also be needed.

It is interesting to consider the mix of instruments required and the overall cost.

In a scenario developed by the EEA, assuming an increase of the carbon permit price up to 65 euro per tonne (currently about 20 euro per tonne), and focusing on the most cost-effective solutions, the greatest reductions are expected to occur in the power generation sector, where application of renewable energy sources will play a major role.

Transport, on the other hand, is the most difficult sector to deal with, as it is both diffuse and pervasive. A major problem is that transport cannot easily switch to another lower carbon fuel on a large scale. Biofuels are expected to be able to cover a small percentage of the overall fuel consumption, but far from enough to reach reductions of the magnitude required. Other fuel options such as hydrogen for fuel cells provide only limited CO2 benefits unless it is produced from renewable resources.

Today the main production pathway for hydrogen is to produce it from natural gas. In this process CO2 is emitted in the production phase. In the medium to long term hydrogen based on renewable resources could certainly come to play a role, but in the shorter term we have to rely on technologies such as hybrid vehicles to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

One of the positive developments in road transport has been the success of the voluntary commitment on the progress made by the auto industry to reduce the average CO2 emission of new vehicles by around 25% to 140 g/km by 2008. But the latest reporting on the commitment shows that in spite of meeting the midterm target ahead of schedule the progress is slowing down so much that there is a real risk that the targets will not be met.

Because of these obvious constraints on action in the transport sector one could be tempted to throw up our hands in despair and say that we just have to do even more in other sectors. But there may be another good reason to maintain a focus on the transport sector, and that is the link between energy consumption and emission of air pollutants. Reduction in energy consumption in the transport sector will generally lead to lower emission of pollutants as well, which are additional to reductions that are occurring and foreseen in future due to technical or other measures.

The thematic strategy to improve air quality in Europe, proposed just under two weeks ago by the European Commission, shows that further substantial reductions in emissions of air pollutants from road transport are not just needed, they are also economically feasible. In addition, by improving energy efficiency in the transport sector air pollutant emission reductions could be further enhanced.

Last year during the Dutch presidency of the EU, there was a presentation by the automotive industry showing that mid-size vehicles could be produced that would only emit half of today's average greenhouse gas emissions of new cars. This efficient vehicle would cost around 40% more than the equivalent size car of today. The projections only included technology already in the testing stage.

If we are truly serious about sustainable development we need to address a broad range of issues. Technology can take us part of the way to a more sustainable mobility future. We also need to take a closer look at how we plan our infrastructure and how we use our land. Most countries have around 20 ministries developing policies that have an impact on transport demand such as agricultural or regional policies. But the same countries have only one ministry dealing with transport supply.

If we are serious about building and sustaining a vibrant world economy the environmental concerns need to be integrated into other policies. For transport this means continuing to weigh up the benefits of the service it provides with the real impacts on society and the environment. I thank you for your attention and I trust that this contribution will help fuel your own discussions on these matters.



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