While the transport sector contributes significantly to society and the economy it also can cause substantial adverse impacts on the environment, global climate and human health. A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) analyses key environmental trends with a view to identifying what has improved and what has hampered the past performance of the transport sector.
The transport sector affects the environment in different ways. It leads to emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and air pollutants, it is the main source of environmental noise and it leads to habitat fragmentation. The European Union has a wide range of policies from nature protection, noise, fuel quality to air quality, which have resulted in some significant improvements in environmental performance. For example, new cars and vans sold in Europe are using less fuel per kilometre, releasing less carbon dioxide and air pollutants. On the other hand, however, an increasing number of Europeans are buying cars, driving and travelling longer distances, and buying goods transported across the world.
The EEA’s new report ‘TERM 2015, Evaluating 15 years of transport and environmental policy integration’ analyses the evolution of the transport sector (freight and passenger) and its impacts on the environment since 2000, including the impacts of the economic recession in 2008. The report concludes that a fundamental decarbonisation of the transport sector will require not just technological solutions but also policies that stimulate significant behavioural changes, including the correct pricing of transport externalities and planning approaches that stimulate the use of sustainable modes of transport.
Despite EU policies designed to encourage greater use of environmentally friendly transport modes, car transport remains the dominant mode of passenger transport. Air transport is the fastest growing mode of passenger transport.
Modal shift is a central element in the EU’s decarbonisation ambitions, as improvements in energy efficiency alone are often insufficient to reduce transport’s environmental impacts. Achieving the aspired modal shift would require significant investments in infrastructure, complemented by other measures to promote more environmentally friendly transport models. Innovations such as intelligent transport systems, new business models and autonomous vehicles may increase the future efficiency of the transport system.