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EEA: Traffic pollution still harmful to health in many parts of Europe
27 November 2012
|Trend in emissions of air pollutants from transport in EEA-32: PM2.5, CO, SOx, NMVOC, NOx. Source: EEA. Click to enlarge.|
Transport in Europe is still responsible for damaging levels of air pollutants and a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions, despite some progress in reducing the impacts from transport. Many of the resulting environmental problems can be addressed by stepping up efforts to meet new EU targets, according to the latest report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
The EEA’s annual report under the Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) assesses the environmental impact of transport across Europe. There have been some improvements over recent years, although these can be partly attributed to reduced economic activity during the recession. As the economic climate improves, the new EU transport targets should focus efforts to further reduce environmental impacts, the report says.
The principal finding of this report is that Europe is making tentative progress in reducing the impacts from transport...However, there are several important caveats to this broadly positive picture.
...One caveat is that for a number of the targets, the methodology for measuring progress has not been finalized, or the data‐sets are not yet fully complete...A second caveat is that for many targets, the base year against which current data are compared is still relatively recent.
...This leads to another observation: although the EU is generally moving in line with the ‘target path’ toward the 60% emissions cut, it does not mean that transport‐related impacts are on a continued and uniform downward trend every year. For example, transport energy consumption actually rose slightly in 2011 compared with 2010 (0.1 %), while overall transport GHG emissions (including aviation but excluding international maritime) in 2010 only reduced by 0.4 % compared to 2009.
A third caveat is that many targets are not moving in the right direction at all. While there have been improvements in CO2 average tailpipe emissions from new passenger cars, there has not been enough progress on the consumption of oil in transport or on meeting the related goal of sourcing 10 % of transport fuel from renewable sources. In spite of the increase in sales of electric vehicles in 2010 and 2011, alternatively‐fueled vehicles still only accounted for 4% of all vehicles in the on‐road fleet in 2010.—TERM 2012 report
Although air pollution has decreased over the last two decades, it is still a major problem in many areas. Euro standards for vehicles have not succeeded in reducing real NO2 emissions to the levels set out in the legislation although they have made substantial improvements to air quality overall.
Increasing transport of goods is also leading to poor air quality. Freight was one of the main causes of the high levels of NO2. Increased shipping over the last two decades has also meant that emissions of acid rain-causing sulfur oxides have only decreased 14% since 1990, despite major efficiency improvements.
One of the big challenges of the 21st Century will be to mitigate the negative effects of transport—greenhouse gases, air pollution and noise—while ensuring positive aspects of mobility. Europe can take the lead by intensifying its work in the area of technological innovation in electric mobility. Such change could transform inner city living.—Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director
Other trends and findings in the report include:
People living near busy roads across Europe are still particularly exposed to excessive air pollution levels. Harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels above legal limits were registered at 44% of roadside air monitoring stations in 2010. Particulate matter (PM10) levels exceeded limits at 33% of these sites. These pollutants can affect the cardiovascular system, lungs, liver, spleen and blood.
Europe needs to further reduce the energy consumed by transport, since it was only 4.3% lower in 2011 than its peak in 2007. Energy use in some transport modes has been strongly influenced by economic fluctuations in recent years.
Freight transport demand is particularly sensitive to economic fluctuations. After a sharp drop between 2008 and 2009, it grew 5.4% in 2010.
Passenger transport demand fell almost 1% between 2009 and 2010. This seems to go against the long-term trend, as passenger transport demand has increased steadily across the EU since records began in the mid-1990s. Private car use has stayed more or less steady, the report says, despite the economic downturn and wide fuel price fluctuations over the last decade.
In some cases, prices may be influencing people to make choices which are damaging for the environment. Buying a car has become steadily cheaper in real terms since the mid-1990s, the report notes, while train travel and passenger transport by water has become more expensive. Nonetheless, new cars are becoming more fuel-efficient. The average car sold in 2011 was 3.3% more efficient than the average sold the year before.
The transport sector has to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 68% between 2010 and mid-century to meet the EU target. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport fell by 0.4% between 2009 and 2010, and early estimates show a similar decrease between 2010 and 2011.
International shipping currently contributes to nearly 87% of all SOx emissions caused by transport.
Noise is another impact from transport which can cause serious health problems. The report finds that in Europe’s biggest cities, three of every five residents are exposed to harmful levels of traffic noise. Even in the countryside, 24 million Europeans are exposed to damaging traffic noise at night. This can cause both physical and psychological problems.
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