Greenhouse gas emissions from Europe's transport sector continue to grow as people and goods are travelling longer distances despite the development of cleaner vehicles, which is making Europe's transport more efficient, shows a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
The tenth edition of the EEA's annual Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report, published yesterday (27 April), presents a mixed picture of the transport sector's environmental achievements in all 32 EEA countries during the period 1997-2007.
The report came ahead of the publication of the EU's strategy on clean and energy-efficient vehicles today.
Greenhouse gas emissions from transport grew by 28% between 1990 and 2007 across the 32 European countries, accounting for 19% of total emissions, the data shows. And while Europe recorded some successes in reducing air pollutant emissions, road transport remains the largest emitter of nitrogen oxides and the second-largest source of particulate matter in 2007, it reveals.
Freight transport continued to grow somewhat faster than the economy, boosted by greater efficiency partly caused by the removal of intra-EU barriers, according to the report. The largest increases were recorded in road (43%) and air (35%) freight across the 27 EU member states.
Passenger transport, on the other hand, also continued to grow but at a slower rate than the economy, the report showed. Air travel remained the fastest growing means of transport in the EU, recording a 48% increase between 1997 and 2007.
The EU has spent the last decade trying to decouple transport emissions from economic growth while improving people's mobility, but the bloc now needs to develop a clear vision for its transport system by 2050, the EEA argued.
"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," said Jacqueline McGlade, EEA executive director. She added that Europe will have to focus not only on the mode of transport but also on the reasons why people travel.
"The core message of this year's report is not only that there are challenges but that there are a number of solutions that can be packaged together," McGlade told journalists.
The report concludes that the most effective approach is to adopt a "policy package" that combines technological improvements reducing fuel consumption with measures to shift journeys to lower emission modes and to avoid travelling altogether.
This would include coupling measures ensuring an uptake rate of 50-80% for electric vehicles by 2050 or improved engine design with land-use planning. This could include bringing people closer to services or investing in passenger transport to offer high-quality services, the report foresees.
The European Commission is due to publish a White Paper on the future of transport by the end of the year, outlining an action plan for sustainable transport.