Page Last modified 20 Apr 2016
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Chapter 21: Transport — Introduction

An efficient transport system is a crucial precondition for economic development and an asset in international competition. Personal mobility for work, study and leisure purposes is considered a key ingredient of modern life. With the integration of markets in Europe, economic growth and higher levels of income, transport is also a major growth sector. In the EU, the transport service industry accounts for about 7 to 8 per cent of GDP including 'own account' (transport by and for the same enterprise) and private transport (CEC, 1992a). To grow together, the continent needs the mobility of people and goods made possible by an efficient transport system.

The benefits of transport, however, come at a high price. The Task Force on the Environment and the EC Internal Market considered transport: '...the most important environmental impact of the Internal Market' (Task Force Environment and the Internal Market, 1990). Not only are the building and maintenance of transport infrastructure a significant item in government spending and accidents a heavy social cost (see Chapters 10 and 11), but nuisances from noise, air pollution and the consumption of energy and natural resources also represent considerable environmental liabilities. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transport are a major contributor to the greenhouse effect. Road transport is currently the greatest offender, accounting for 80 per cent of CO2 emissions from transport and 60 per cent of total nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions. Routine and accidental releases of oil or chemical substances into the environment by lorries and tankers contribute to the pollution of soils, rivers and the sea. Transport infrastructure covers an increasing amount of land to the virtual exclusion of other uses, cuts through ecosystems and spoils the view of natural scenery and historic monuments.

No mode of motorised transport is environmentally friendly. However, some modes of transport, notably rail and inland waterway, have lower environmental impacts than others, such as road and air. An analysis of transport developments and their impact on the environment must therefore distinguish between different modes of transport, and whether these modes are transporting passengers or freight.

The social and environmental costs in Germany of road transport alone have been put at 2.5 per cent of GDP (Kågeson, 1993). For OECD countries as a whole the figure for road transport has been put even higher at nearer 5 per cent (OECD, 1988). It is therefore questionable whether the present organisation and level of transport in Europe are environmentally sustainable.

Figure 21.1 shows the contribution of road transport to a number of environmental problems in The Netherlands. For example, road transport is the main cause of noise nuisance in The Netherlands (over 80 per cent), while contributing little to waste disposal problems (under 5 per cent). Comparisons of the range of environmental impacts from transport would be possible with such 'theme profiles' for other countries. Unfortunately, theme profiles have so far only been developed for The Netherlands (Adriaanse, 1993).

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