Transport: part of the problem?

Speech Published 19 Oct 2004 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Energy in Motion conference, 19-20. Introductory speech at parallel session 2 Tackling the challenges: looking for a common understanding on the sense of urgency and the role of the transport sector.

Amsterdam, 19 October 2004

Transport: part of the problem?

Professor Jacqueline McGlade
Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Energy in Motion conference, 19-20 October
Introductory speech at parallel session 2 Tackling the challenges: looking for a common understanding on the sense of urgency and the role of the transport sector.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen

Over the past decade the European Environment Agency has tracked the environmental performance of the transport sector, via the Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) and today we are publishing the 2004 TERM report. Over the years we have seen positive changes towards a more sustainable transport system, but at the same time we have seen other changes that negate much of the progress made.

The best example is the reduction in the emission of regulated pollutants from road transport, where emissions have been reduced by 24 to 35% for the major pollutant groups. And it is only because there are still many older vehicles driving around that do not use the latest technology that the emissions are not much lower. Projections from the European Commission predict a reduction of 80 to 90% by 2020 when upcoming regulation comes into effect and most of the vehicle fleet has been renewed.

In light of this we might think that all we need to do is stick to our directives and wait. But this is not correct.
If, for example, we look at the concentration of ground level ozone in our cities, we do not see the decline we should expect from improvements in the transport sector.
Now, we know that ozone levels are not only tied to transport. Emissions from the power sector and from industry are important as well, just as the weather has a strong influence on ozone forming processes. Therefore we cannot conclude that the reductions are not having an effect, but still we should be on the lookout for possible connections.

The vehicle emissions that have been reduced are those which appear under test cycle conditions. But these cycles are only proxies for real world driving. There are studies that show that engines are being adapted to have particularly low emissions under test cycle conditions but not as low under other conditions. So only when test cycles are fully representative of real world driving will the full emission reduction actually be achieved.

But it is worse than this. Cars have air conditioners, seat heaters, window warmers and so on. All this extra equipment uses power, which is not used during vehicle testing. So real emissions will be even higher. Add-ons are becoming the norm and represent a growing source of energy consumption and non-regulated pollution. Furthermore people are modifying their diesel engines with 'chip-tuning sets' to get even more power. This tends to increase emissions, in some cases by several hundred percentage points. From the Danish EPA we have estimates of 33 to 50% of newer diesel vehicles being modified this way.

Ensuring that vehicles actually meet the emission standards in the real world now needs to be a priority.

On greenhouse gases the story is even more mixed. The good part is the reduction in average greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger vehicles, the result of the voluntary commitment by the auto industry. The bad part is the fact that traffic is growing faster than the improvement in vehicle efficiency, and as a result greenhouse gas emissions are still growing, with all the concomitant effects on climate change and resource use.

But the leading position of diesel technology is also critical. Around 15% of the efficiency gains reported so far have been a direct result of an increasing share of diesel vehicles. Diesel vehicles are for thermo-dynamical reasons more efficient than their petrol counterpart. But this increase leaves Europe with a security of supply problem as we use more diesel and less petrol than we can produce in our refineries.

So far we have been able to solve the difference via trading, but with diesel shares growing in other regions as well, we may not be able to increase the share of diesel vehicles in the fleet endlessly.

Recently it has been interesting to observe the discussions going on in California, where the governor wants to legislate on vehicle efficiencies. California would reach an efficiency in 2013 that we should reach around 2008. The reaction of industry has been to respond that it is an impossible target to meet without an explosion in vehicle prices. But remember these industries are global. Most major auto manufactures are present both in Europe and in the US. So what is 'impossible' in California is possible in Europe. And in fact, according to Eurostat, average purchase costs of vehicles are actually falling in Europe.

But we should certainly not lose sight of the fact that total vehicle emissions and with them pollutants are still growing. This is partly because traffic is growing faster than efficiencies, but also because of the increasing power consumption related to air conditioners that I mentioned earlier. So transport is still not making any contribution towards meeting Kyoto targets.


We have seen that the mix of regulatory pressure and inventiveness of industry can create real progress regarding releases of pollutants into the environment. We also see a willingness of industry to enter into dialogue. But maybe we have not been good enough at reaching out and involving consumers themselves. After all it is their choice to buy large 'gas guzzlers' rather than small hybrid vehicles, to 'chip-tune' their cars to get more power, and to encourage the use of non renewables, novel chemicals and gross consumption of goods.
Real progress is not just about innovation and regulation, it is about getting the right information to consumers.

Thank you for your attention.



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