TU Dresden study on external costs of automotive transportation in Europe calls for internalization of the high external costs; raising user prices to change behavior
26 December 2012
|Average external costs from cars per 1,000 vkm by country. Click to enlarge.|
A recent study from Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) commissioned by the Greens/European Free Allianace (EFA) in the European Parliament concluded that the cars used within the EU-27 externalize up to about €373 billion (US$493 billion) per year (high estimate) of costs on to other people, other regions and other generations. The low estimate is external costs of €258 billion (US$341 billion).
The study focused on the larger environmental costs of car traffic (plus accident costs not covered by insurance)—i.e., air pollution; noise, upstream and downstream effects (covering all effects before and after the actual trip is performed); smaller other effects (land use, separational effects etc.); and climate change (focused on avoidance costs rather than damage costs). Neither infrastructure costs (area purchase, construction, maintenance, demolition, administration of infrastructure) nor congestion costs were included.
Costs for nature and landscape (water and soil pollution, resealing of land, habitat fragmentation and restoration, scenic beauty, biodiversity, etc.) were covered under “smaller other costs”, as were costs due to fragmentation of space and land use costs.
|“Of course, the selection of any value for climate change costs is somewhat arbitrary. Given the uncertainties described above, however, we feel that these figures give an impression of the order of magnitude of the adaptation process in front of us. The results show that on one hand GHG emission reduction is not for free, but on the other it is also not impossible. The costs are in the same range as the costs for other effects.”|
—“The True Costs of Automobility”
The magnitude of the external costs leads to a level of car use that is inefficient from the perspective of society, according to the study’s authors. Because “others” pay for large parts of the costs of transport, Europeans travel by car too much to enable an efficient situation, they concluded, noting that this also partly explains why there is a high level of congestion in parts of the EU.
The report analyzed the external costs of car use within the EU-27 by evaluating the existing literature in the field and developing a database from these figures.
Among their other conclusions, the authors suggested that the frequent claim “that cars cover all their internal and external costs” cannot be sustained. The study did not make a detailed estimation of charges and earmarked taxes of cars attributable to external costs; however, the authors said that it is “obvious” that a sum in the range of €300 to 400 billion of earmarked funds against these costs cannot be reached.
On the contrary; it must be stated that car traffic in the EU is highly subsidized by other people and other regions and will be by future generations: residents along an arterial road; taxpayers; elderly people who do not own cars; neighbouring countries; and children, grandchildren and all future generations subsidize today’s traffic. They have to pay, or will have to pay, part of the bill.
These findings suggest that political action is urgently needed. The sooner this happens, the more the transition process can be designed in a smooth, efficient, socially acceptable and environmentally friendly manner. The longer that action is delayed, the stricter, more severe and more expensive this process will be.—“The True Costs of Automobility”
The authors also suggested that economic price settings and regulatory measures, framework settings and (land use) planning measures need at least as much political attention as technology. The least expensive option—and one that can change behavior substantially—might be to increase user price by internalizing the external costs in consumer prices, while offering alternatives to car use.
Reducing the total number of vehicle kilometres travelled has the greatest effect on greenhouse gas emissions, and there is no risk of recoupling effects. Technology measures such as biofuels or electric vehicles focus mostly on higher energy efficiencies and on reduction of greenhouse gases. Their effects on all other cost components of external costs are smaller. Noise and air pollution, as well as the large cost component of accidents, remain high, causing ongoing negative effects on society.
Many projections of avoidance curves are based on new technologies aimed only at achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions. The discussion about greenhouse gas reductions in transport is primarily left to automobile technology experts. This approach is misleading because other fields (like economic approaches or land use approaches or behavioural changes) are neglected; and these are fields in which reductions come at a much cheaper price.
The TransPoRD-project as a key research project on European greenhouse gas reduction measures in the transport sector concludes: “Technologies known today will not be sufficient to achieve GHG reduction targets of -60% to -80% by 2050”. Consequently, a combination of all possible approaches is needed: internalisation of external costs, pricing measures, technology development, land use changes, strong regulation (e.g. banning fossil fuel cars in certain regions after certain years). Modal split changes are needed to tackle the problem.—“The True Costs of Automobility”
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