By William C. Schillaci
Achieving emissions reductions from the transportation sector in the European Union (EU) has proven to be a difficult undertaking. Whether or not the situation shows a marked improvement, the transportation challenge in Europe may cast light on similar conditions and potential solutions in the United States.
One of the more forthright assessments made on the state of transport and how it is affecting the environment in Europe was recently released by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Emissions reductions in the transportation sector are occurring, but at a slower pace than they are in "society as a whole" in the EU's 27 nations and 3 candidate nations.
The report states that additional reductions will not be achieved by technological improvements alone--the supply side of transportation--which increase the efficiencies of vehicles and reduce emissions per mile. It is now believed that much more emphasis needs to be placed on the demand for the various modes of transport.
According to EEA, implementation of nontechnical measures--including behavioral changes introduced into households, industry, and service--within which the demand for transport actually originates, must continue in the EU and, if possible, be intensified. Such developments will need to occur to limit transport volume growth to +4 percent to -2 percent from 2010 to 2020 to enable the EU to meet ambitious emissions targets set in the Bali roadmap.
The other end of the spectrum, a business-as-usual scenario, would result in a 15 percent emissions increase over this period. Lacking constraint on growth, "technology measures of hitherto unseen magnitude will be needed," EEA states.
According to the authors of the report, passenger and freight demand can be best managed through price controls. "On present knowledge, this is the only measure that can generate substantial limitations on emissions," states EEA.
The United States Looks On
There are substantial differences between transport within the United States and Europe. The United States has a complex freight railroad system (a desirable mode for controlling emissions), but the very large distances between major population centers have given rise to a heavy dependence on road travel for both commercial and private transport.
While the rate of car ownership in Western Europe seems to be stabilizing, there has been substantial growth in new member states in Eastern Europe and Turkey. In 2005, the average car ownership in the EU was 460 cars per 1,000 inhabitants. Turkey had the lowest ownership rate (80 per 1,000 inhabitants) and Liechtenstein, the highest (705 per 1,000 inhabitants). Lithuania tops the growth charts, up from 198 cars per 1,000 inhabitants in 1995 to 428 in 2005 (an increase of 116 percent). Car ownership in the United States is about 777 per 1,000 inhabitants.
Between 1990 and 2004, total CO2 emissions in the United States increased 19 percent while energy demand from the transport sector increased by 29 percent. During the same period, total GHG emissions in the EU dropped 7.9 percent while emissions from the transport sector increased by 26 percent. The increase occurred despite the fact that transit is used for about 10 percent of urban trips in Western Europe, compared with about 2 percent in the United States. One conclusion is that the challenges of reducing GHG emissions from transport in Europe are similar in the United States.
The report tracks European developments in all the transportation sectors for both passenger and freight travel: road, rail, air, waterborne, and nonmotorized. According to EEA, EU member states project that GHG emissions from the transport sector in 2010 will be the same as those in 2005--26 percent above 1990 levels. Except for Germany, all EU members expect their GHG emissions from transport to increase.
Furthermore, these projections do not reflect additional increases in international aviation and maritime transport because these activities are outside the Kyoto Protocol. Lacking a radical change in demand for transportation, EEA believes that Europe will not be able to achieve its goal of reducing GHG emissions by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
The report also ties transport and transport emissions to housing, agriculture, and industry itself, since decisions in these sectors create transport demand.
Following are observations made by EEA on the major transportation modes, along with possible control measures.
Energy use and associated carbon emissions from inland freight transport grew in the EU by 30 percent between 1995 and 2005, faster than the European economy. The road freight segment experienced the greatest increase, at 38 percent.
In addition, the European Commission (EC) projected that increases in freight activity will continue to drive emissions of CO2 upward despite expected efficiency improvements within the sector.
Freight transport demand is largely driven by economic considerations in the private sector, says EEA, and present growth patterns indicate that transporting freight is less costly than producing goods locally.
Hence, this does not appear to be a sector where major changes in demand can be expected. However, technical work to control engine emissions is ongoing, and some nations are encouraging shifts from road transport to other modes. Other actions within the EU include:
- Reducing congestion, which would reduce costs and time of transport and reduce fuel consumption in some parts of Europe's transport system
- Reducing GHG emissions from freight transport, which would also help to reduce air pollutant emissions and noise
- Reducing dependency on mostly imported fossil fuels, which would improve energy security
Between 1990 and 2004, growth in passenger miles traveled occurred in all transport modes except sea transport. The largest increase was in air travel, which grew by 49 percent from 1995 to 2004. Passenger car use grew by 18 percent between 1995 and 2004 and accounted for 74 percent of all passenger transport in 2004 in the EU-25.
One of Europe's major problems is increased car ownership, particularly in Eastern Europe, which tends to foster a move away from buses and trains and also reduces the average number of passengers per car.
"Growing car ownership is therefore unfortunate from the point of view of reducing GHG emissions," says EEA.
A key obstacle to achieving a mode shift from private to public transport is the sometimes poor availability, slowness, and unreliability of public transport services. The report casts light on one of the persistent problems of public transportation: getting users back after they have been lost. "It may be easier to deter people from using public transport via low quality than to attract them back via improved quality," says EEA. "Non-users are often not aware of quality improvement initiatives and are therefore less likely to be influenced. Thus, insufficient attention to improving the quality of public transport and raising awareness about these improvements could restrict the use of public transport to only those users who do not have a choice due to factors such as age or economic status."
In stark contrast to the United States, Europe attributes high importance to encouraging nonmotorized modes, such as walking and bicycling, particularly as a means of accessing public transportation. Countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark are given high marks for providing parking for bicycles, allowing bicycles to be carried on public transport vehicles, and providing comfortable and safe waiting areas for passengers using public transit.
Intra-EU air passenger transport grew by 49 percent between 1995 and 2004, while air freight transport grew by 31 percent over the same period. Air transport continues to grow faster than improvements in efficiency, meaning GHG emissions from the sector are likely to increase.
One difficulty in addressing the problem is that emissions from air transportation are excluded from consideration under the Kyoto Protocol because of difficulty in agreeing on how to allocate emissions to any specific country. The EC has proposed to address the problem by modifying its emissions trading directive to cover emissions from all intra-EU flights beginning in 2011 and all international flights beginning in 2012. The expected effect would be to cap aviation emissions at 2004-2006 levels, providing a 46 percent reduction from the 2004-06 baseline by 2020.
Activity on the technology side includes incorporating efficiency into the next generation of jets, including improving airframes and engine performance. The International Air Transport Association has also called for 10 percent of aircraft fuel to be from alternative sources by 2017.
Approximately 90 percent of the EU's external trade and 40 percent of internal trade is conducted on water. It has been estimated that the energy consumption per ton/per mile of goods transported by inland waterway is one-sixth of consumption that occurs on road transport and half that of rail. Carbon emissions per ton/passenger miles are lower for waterborne transport than for any other motorized transport mode. Also, the external costs of inland navigation (e.g., costs of accidents, air and noise pollution, and congestion) are about seven times lower than those for road transport.
Accordingly, European governments are seeking ways to encourage switching to sea transport. The EC is supporting development of the "Motorways of the Sea" concept in the Baltic Sea, Western Europe (Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, and Irish Sea), Southwestern Europe (western Mediterranean), and Southeastern Europe (Adriatic, Ionian, and Eastern Mediterranean).
"To support a modal shift from road to sea, industry will have to offer reliable, cost effective and efficient services," says EEA.
On the negative side, ships are the largest source of SO2 emissions in the EU. The level of sulfur permitted in marine fuel is currently 45,000 parts per million (ppm), which compares to a sulfur limit of 50 ppm in automotive fuel.
Beginning in January 2010, the EC will require a 1,000 ppm sulfur limit for fuels in transport vessels at berth in EU ports. Several areas in Europe also have a 15,000 ppm sulfur limit for fuel in ships in certain emissions control areas.
Another problem that somewhat diminishes the environmental appeal of vessels is the need to travel faster to compete with land and air transport. Increased speed decreases energy efficiency.
The report touches on other factors that are viewed in Europe as key to controlling GHG emissions from transport sectors in the next several decades. These include the use of biofuels.
In Europe, as in the United States, there is growing concern that the first generation of biofuels may result in as many environmental problems as they purport to alleviate.
Hence, EEA believes caution should be exercised before a mass conversion to biofuels is undertaken. A more optimistic picture is presented for second-generation biofuels (e.g., cellulosic ethanol) and the use of biomass for energy production.
Also addressed is the importance of land use, particularly in European towns and cities, to facilitate walking, cycling, and use of public transport. Finally, EEA emphasizes that it is by no means condemning the use of cars since use of a full hybrid car is likely to be less polluting in terms of emissions per passenger mile than a rural, off-peak diesel train.
As we noted, there are limits on the lessons the United States can derive from the European experience, particularly in terms of road transport. Differences in available public transportation, distances that must be traveled, fuel prices, and job security in the auto manufacturing sector suggest that European transitions can be less disruptive.
On the other hand, efforts across the Atlantic to improve public transport, attract back citizens who have transitioned to cars, and encourage the use of high-efficiency/low-emissions vehicles should encourage U.S. industry and policymakers to do more to control the growing environmental consequences of transportation.
EEA's report, Climate for Transport Change, is available at http://reports.eea.europa.eu/eea_report_2008_1/en.
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