A closer look at urban transport - TERM 2013: transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Transport guarantees our mobility and access to goods. Moreover, the transport sector helps maintain and develop our societal and economic systems. Transport is also a main source of pressures on the environment, such as the unsustainable use of natural resources, as well as greenhouse gas, air pollutant and noise emissions. Many of these environmental problems are inter-linked, requiring comprehensive and systemic policies at multiple levels of governance in response.

European Environment Agency's (EEA) annual Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) report aims to provide policymakers, as well as a broader audience, a clear overview of current transport demand, the pressures from the transport sector on the environment, and related impacts and responses. The report uses latest available data in order to assess key trends and overall progress towards policy targets. This overview is provided in the form of a series of twelve indicators known as the 'TERM Core Set of Indicators' or TERM-CSI.

Policy context

The European Union (EU) has adopted specific policy targets for transport, based on the European Commission's White Paper on transport (EC, 2011). The White Paper sets the target of achieving a 60 % reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This target represents the transport sector's contribution to the overall EU objective of a 80–95 % reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions as defined in the Roadmap for a low carbon economy by 2050 (EC, 2011a).

Most of the targets monitored in EEA's TERM report are set by the White Paper. Moreover, a range of other environmental targets in the EU transport and environment policy are also tracked, such as the new passenger car carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions target or the share of renewable energy in transport.

The 2011 Transport White Paper also called for a 'new type of urban mobility' aiming to undertake the necessary transition from a primarily car based personal mobility in cities to a mobility based on walking and cycling, high quality public transport and cleaner passenger vehicles, as well as more efficient freight transport. In essence, the strategy called for a transition to a new way of life in an urban environment from the transport perspective. The European Commission (EC) is currently working on the development of the urban dimension of EU transport policy, which is likely to support initiatives such as sustainable urban mobility plans and access restriction schemes, financial support mechanisms as well as best practice guidelines and information sharing mechanisms.

Environmental performance of European transport — generally improving slowly; achieving long-term targets will require significant evolution of the transport system

Monitoring progress towards targets is the backbone of the TERM report, and Chapter 2 provides the latest information in order that key trends and overall progress towards achieving transport and environmental objectives can be understood.

Table 2.1 presents an overview of progress towards transport goals, showing that European transport is currently improving its environmental performance. The latest data reveal that observed values are better than the 'target path' for the overall GHG emissions, oil consumption reduction and average CO2 emissions for new passenger cars targets. However, achieving the European Union's long-term targets requires that the improvements in environmental performance will be sufficient to avoid locking the transport system into unsustainable trends.

Overall GHG emissions, including aviation but excluding maritime shipping, have reduced only slightly by 0.6 % in 2011. The reduction has been limited partly because international aviation emissions rose by 2.6 %. This slight reduction continues the trend observed in last year's report. While the progress is consistent with the target trajectory, emissions in 2011 were still 25 % above 1990 levels.

Transport oil consumption has reduced by 0.6 % between 2010 and 2011. However, the rate of reduction will need to accelerate over the next few years in order to remain below the linear target line to the 2050 goal of reducing transport oil consumption by 70 % reduction compared to 2008. First estimates based on current fuel sales data, used in this report as a proxy, show that transport energy consumption may have dropped by 4 % in 2012 compared to 2011 in the EU.28 (1).

New passenger car CO2 emissions per kilometre (km) have also followed a continuing downward trend with a further 2.6 % reduction in 2012 compared to 2011. Policies in this area have had positive impacts on the CO2 emissions per kilometre from new passenger cars. The European Union's 2015 goal of 130 g/km may well be achieved ahead of time. In fact, the annual reduction from 2007 suggests that many manufacturers are on track towards the 2015 target while aiming at reducing emissions in the light of the 2020 goal indicated by current legislation. However, the rules on how car manufacturers must meet their CO2 target for 2020 are still to be agreed. On the other hand, differences between real world emissions and test-cycle emissions exist. This has been acknowledged by a European Parliament request to introduce the World Harmonised Light Duty Test Procedure (WLTP) by 2017 which, it is believed, could reduce these differences.

The average EU.28 share of renewable energy consumed in transport increased between 2010 and 2011 from 3.5 % to 3.8 %, while the 'target path' suggests a value of 4.1 % in 2011. Only biofuels complying with the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) sustainability criteria are counted, with data available from 2010 onwards. The share of biofuels complying with the sustainability criteria in the RED increased by 6.3 %, while the amount of all biofuels consumed in transport (also including those not meeting the sustainability criteria) rose by 3.9 %. Meanwhile, the use of renewable electricity in road and rail transport keeps increasing, doubling in the case of road and by 10 % for rail between 2010 and 2011. However, road transport electricity consumed remains very low.

Additional findings on transport demand, air pollutant emissions and alternative fuel vehicles

The TERM-CSI also offers additional findings. Between 2010 and 2011, passenger transport demand in the EU‑27 (European Union, excluding Croatia) increased by nearly 1 %, reaching a new all-time high, mainly attributed to a 10 % increase in aviation. Demand steadily increased between 1995 and 2009, but at a slower rate than gross domestic product (GDP). The largest increases have been in air (66 %) and car (23 %) demand between 1995 and 2011. However, the economic recession led to a minor decline in 2009 and 2010 (0.1 %). First estimations suggest that passenger transport demand may have decreased again in 2012.

Freight transport volumes in the EU‑27 remained unchanged between 2010 and 2011, approximately 8 % below the peak volumes experienced in 2007. However, the modal share changed slightly in favour of rail transport, the only mode to experience an increase in tonne kilometres (tkm) between 2010 and 2011. First estimations suggest that freight transport demand may have dropped by 3.7 % in 2012.

Even though emissions of all transport air pollutants have significantly declined over the past two decades, the general trend for decreases in air pollutant emissions from transport appears to have stabilised between 2010 and 2011.This is except in the case of sulphur oxides (SOX), where a 2.3 % increase was registered, also driven by a 6.3 % increase in international aviation and more than 2 % rise for domestic and international shipping.

As the EEA report Air quality in Europe — 2013 report stressed, air quality levels in cities are a fundamental issue for public health (EEA, 2013). In 2011, the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) annual limit value was exceeded at 42 % of the traffic stations, at 3 % of the urban background stations but only at one rural background station within the EU. The increasing number of diesel vehicles in some cities in Europe has led to persistant concentrations of NO2 measured close to traffic in the period 2002–2011. As a result, 5 % of the EU urban population lives in areas where the annual EU limit value and the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines for NO2 were exceeded in 2011. Oxides of nitrogen (NOX) are also promoting tropospheric ozone (O3) formation which along with particulate matter (PM) are Europe's most problematic pollutants in terms of harm to human health.

'Dieselisation', i.e. the increase of the share of diesel fuels in transport fuels, is one of the main causes of high particulate concentration in European cities. Road fuel excise duties in all European Union Member States are more favourable to diesel than gasoline. Diesel vehicles generally emit more PM and NOX per kilometre than their gasoline equivalents. In 2011, PM with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less (PM10) was exceeded at 43 % of traffic sites, 38 % of urban background sites, 26 % of 'other' sites (mostly industrial) and even at 15 % of rural sites within the EU.

Alternative fuel vehicles are deployed increasingly in Europe. Among these, Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) vehicles dominate and only the Netherlands has a significant amount of electric vehicles (70 000 in 2011, steadily increasing since 2004). Pure electric vehicles currently comprise only 0.04 % of the total fleet and latest data show that their share in new car registrations in the EU‑27 is 0.1 % (LPG vehicles 1.3 %; Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles 0.5 %). However, this means an increase of 61 % in 2012. France leads with 5 700 pure electric vehicles sold in 2012, followed by Germany with 2 800.

Chapter 3 analyses in detail the levels of passenger and freight transport demand across Europe and the modes and fuels used to meet it. Transport demand and the modes used largely determine the resulting environmental impacts.

The data show that over the past decade for the EU‑28 there is no absolute decoupling of transport demand from GDP, except when it comes to car use in the EU‑15. Car use stabilised in the EU‑15 while volumes fell by 1.4 % between 2009 and 2011.

For the EU‑13 (see Box 1.1), transport growth is outstripping economic growth, reflecting the growth in these economies. Passenger air transport remains the second highest modal share in the EU‑27 at almost 9 % and has increased by 10 % between 2010 and 2011.

A closer look on urban transport

Urban transport accounts for a significant share of the environmental impacts of transport in Europe, and the second part of TERM 2013 analyses trends, main characteristics, options to minimise impacts, and recent actions that have proven to be effective in the transition towards more efficient mobility in European metropolitan areas. Meeting the transport policy aims and goals set out in the White Paper will be easier if towns and cities across Europe follow the example of those places that have already made good progress in making the mobility system evolve towards more sustainability at local scale. If followed more broadly, such an evolution can lead to a better quality of life for all of Europe's citizens.

The importance of urban transport for the environment

Chapter 4 provides an overview of the importance of urban transport in economic terms and sets out the impacts of urban transport on the environment. Urban transport plays a key role in the overall context of transport driven environmental impacts. For example, it has been estimated to account for around 25 % of the CO2 transport emissions responsible for climate change, almost all attributed to road transport (EEA, 2013a). In terms of air quality, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised cancer agency of the WHO, has recently classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans. Such health risks point to the need for policies to achieve better ways to genuinely change the way we move and transport goods in cities.

Up to a third of Europeans living in cities are exposed to air pollutant levels exceeding EU air quality standards. Between 2009 and 2011, up to 96 % of city dwellers were exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations above WHO guidelines and up to 98 % were exposed to O3 levels above WHO guidelines (EEA, 2013). The average contribution of urban and local traffic to PM10 concentration is 35 % while it is up to 64 % in the case of NO2 concentrations (EEA, 2012).

Measures to achieve a more sustainable modal share can work

Chapter 5 analyses in detail urban passenger transport trends and main underlying factors that can explain how and why people travel. It concludes that the contribution from sustainable travel modes to urban mobility can be influenced by a number of factors, including the density and design of urban form, the provision and quality of transport infrastructure and transport costs (including parking and public transport fares).

Chapter 5 shows that those cities that have been determined in implementing a package of measures to achieve a more sustainable modal share have obtained promising results. For example, improving non‑motorised transport facilities have resulted in increasing bike use in Berlin and Seville, and the congestion charge schemes in cities such as London and Stockholm have achieved substantial road traffic reductions. Public transport has a key role to play in providing sustainable alternatives to guarantee mobility options in the metropolitan area.

Urban freight trends

In spite of being a vital part of the urban economy, delivering goods and services to city residents and businesses, urban freight has received relatively limited attention from both researchers and policymakers. Chapter 6 analyses urban freight trends and main aspects. It is dominated by road transport as the final leg of a potentially long and complicated supply chain, with limited options for modal shift. The key to improving the environmental performance of urban freight lies in better and more efficient logistics and the use of low or zero emission vehicles. Different policy measures can make the transition faster.

Tailoring environmental solutions to different cities

European cities are very different, but they all can benefit from the measures that have proven to be efficient. The way such measures are implemented could vary depending on local circumstances. Chapter 7 presents and discusses a variety of realistic options to minimise impacts. It provides examples and figures that can help developing comprehensive packages of measures covering all modes of transport in a metropolitan area. The development of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) can eventually increase the urban quality of life while guaranteeing its social and economic development. The EU takes on an important role in the setting of targets and regulation and the monitoring of progress through a comprehensive framework of action. Ultimately, in order to gain public support this must aim to address not just the environmental impacts of the transport system, but to create an improved quality of life for all European citizens.

Finally, Chapter 8 summarises the main findings and messages from the report.

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