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EEA TERM Report Finds Efficiency Gains of Clean Vehicle Technology Being Offset By Ongoing Increases in Travel

None of the EEA scenarios considered delivered the targeted reduction in transport GHG emissions. The closest is the combination of improved technology and “avoid and shift” policies. Click to enlarge.

While technological advances are producing cleaner vehicles, more and more passengers and goods are travelling further distances in Europe, thereby offsetting efficiency gains. Based on analysis of long-term trends, a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report calls for a clear vision defining Europe’s transport system by 2050 and consistent policies to achieve it.

On its tenth anniversary, the EEA’s TERM report presents an overview of transport’s impact on the environment, built on an analysis of 40 policy-relevant indicators. The report’s findings for the period 1997–2007 present a mixed picture, with some improvements in air pollutants and serious concerns regarding persistent growth in transport’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the last ten years we have concentrated on measures to improve mobility whilst decoupling transport emissions from economic growth. Today, we can see that the extensive investment in transport infrastructure has enabled us to travel further to meet our daily needs, but has not led to a decrease in the amount of time that we are exposed to noise, congestion and air pollution.

In the future we will need to focus not only on the mode of transport, but also the reasons why people choose to travel, because ultimately mobility is inextricably linked to our quality of life.

—Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of EEA

Transport, including international aviation and maritime transport, accounts for around a quarter of total EU greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike some sectors, transport’s impact on the environment continues to be closely linked to economic growth.

Whilst none of the scenarios considered would deliver the desired 80% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050, the greatest savings potential arises from the combined package, in which technological improvements that reduce fuel consumption are used alongside measures to shift journeys to lower emission modes and to avoid the need to travel altogether.

It is clear therefore that we need to implement a package of policy measures that do not rely solely upon technology. High density, mixed-use land planning impacts may not be felt in the short and medium term, which implies that the gains from these “avoid” and “shift” policies my be much greater after 2050. On the other hand, implementing such changes will require a paradigm shift in planning approaches.

—TERM 2009

Among the trends and findings of the report:

  • In EEA countries, greenhouse gas emissions from transport (excluding international aviation and maritime transport) grew by 28% between 1990 and 2007, and now account for around 19% of total emissions.

  • Freight transport tends to grow slightly faster than the economy, with road and air freight recording the largest increases in the EU-27 (43% and 35%, respectively, between 1997 and 2007). The share of rail and inland waterways in the total freight volumes declined during that period.

  • The current economic slowdown has reduced transport volumes but transport is expected to resume its growth as soon as the economy starts to grow again.

  • Passenger transport continued to grow but at a slower rate than the economy. Air travel within the EU remained the fastest growth area, increasing 48% between 1997 and 2007. Car journeys remained the dominant mode of transport, accounting for 72% of all passenger kilometers in the EU-27.

  • Despite recent reductions in air pollutant emissions, road transport was the largest emitter of nitrogen oxides and the second largest contributor of pollutants forming particulate matter in 2007.

  • Among 32 EEA countries, only Germany and Sweden are on track to meet their 2010 indicative targets for biofuels use.

  • Road traffic remains by far the largest source of exposure to transport noise. The number of people exposed to damaging noise levels, especially at night, is expected to increase unless effective noise policies are developed and implemented in full.

The EEA report, “Towards a resource-efficient transport system” is the annual publication for the EEA Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM), which monitors the progress and effectiveness of efforts to integrate transport and environment strategies.

The EEA is based in Copenhagen and aims to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe’s environment by providing timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policymakers and the public.

EEA member countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom.




People will normally travel more with better roads and as they have more free time and higher standard of living. A very difficult trend to reverse quickly except with a deep prolonged economic recession. It worked in USA in 2009.

More, faster, cheaper, higher quality public transports is also a proven way to convince people to leave the car home.

The London city down town car restrictions also worked.

fred schumacher

Research by Cesare Marchetti and Yakov Zahavi have shown travel time to be remarkably consistent, unchanging over thousands of years, right into the present. As travel speeds have increased, distance has increased, but travel time has remained the same, between 1.1 and 1.5 hours per day. This appears to be hard-wired into our psyches.

Transportation costs have also remained constant, averaging 15% of income. As incomes have gone up, more money has gone to travel, but the percentage going to travel hasn't changed.


Interesting thought experiment:
What happens when car technology advances to the point where it has a CO2eq level at full Life Cycle (extraction to retirement (though likely everything at some point will be somewhat, if not completely infinitely recyclable)) of LESS than most public transport per capita use, so that the only argument against car use is congestion (i.e. inconvenience, which is just another term for convenience of choice)? In addition, it seems that most studies that i have come across have determined that owning a car is less of a tax burden per capita on society than supporting transit per capita (ethical/financial reasons aside). Does public transit have an inherent sentimental/ patriotic/ moral aspect to it? Which leaves opposition to car use as Class-based only. My point: time to be less anti-car and more pro-all-inclusive solution. As was wonderfully quoted above: "... because ultimately, mobility is inextricably linked to our quality of life...." (including independent personal mobility).

Henry Gibson

Actually a car can be made that burns diesel or any other common fuel and releases no CO2 during operation. There are several people who know how to do this and some of them don't even know that they know. Locomotives are somewhat easier to build on this principle, but could be used in the Chunnel in cold snowy weather. ..HG..

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