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‘Significant behaviour shifts’ needed to cut transport emissions

Climate & Environment

‘Significant behaviour shifts’ needed to cut transport emissions

Private cars generate 40% of all EU transport emissions.


Reaching the European emissions reduction targets will require citizens to change their driving habits and embrace alternative modes of transport, according to a new report by the EAA. Our partner Journal de l’Environnement reports

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport have risen 19.4% since 1990. According to the European Environment Agency (EAA), this is the only major economic sector that has seen an increase in emissions over this period.

In a report entitled Evaluating 15 years of transport and environmental policy integration, the EAA concluded that the “decarbonisation of the transport sector in future will require not just technological solutions but also policies that stimulate significant behavioural changes”.

In 2013, transport accounted for one quarter of the European Union’s total emissions. Private cars are responsible for 45% of the sector’s emissions, and HGVs for 20%.

Widespread diesel incentives

The EU’s environmental policies on fuel, air quality, noise pollution and the protection of nature have brought a certain degree of progress. Emissions of three air pollutants – sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and fine particulate matter (PM) – fell between 2000 and 2013.

But the proportion of diesel-fuelled vehicles on the road has increased substantially over the same period. Financial incentives from a number of European governments have encouraged this rise. Electric motors have become more widespread, but they still only represent 0.07% of private vehicles in the EU.

The EAA also raised concern over the growing gap between “official” emissions and those observed on the road (particularly NOx from diesel engines, as well as CO2).

The economic crisis was a serious brake on the growth of transport in Europe, and by extension, on its harmful effects. Goods transport dropped off in 2008, and has stayed relatively stable ever since. The number of freight kilometres grew by only 7.3% between 2000 and 2013, while passenger kilometres grew by 8.4%.

Energy efficiency improvements not enough

Despite European rules designed to encourage alternative, greener modes of transport, the car remains the EU citizen’s preferred way to get around. According to the Agency, a modal shift is the key to reaching the EU’s GHG emissions reduction targets, because “improvements in energy efficiency alone are often insufficient to reduce environmental pressures”.

Enacting this modal shift would require large infrastructure investments, on top of additional measures to promote more ecological modes of transport. The EAA also pointed out that “innovations such as intelligent transport systems, new business models and autonomous vehicles may increase the efficiency of the transport system”. In this context, “new business models” is a reference to shared ownership schemes for cars; a behavioural change that would relegate the car to the status of just one mode of transport among others.