Original publication: November 2015
Authors: Marc Thomas, Research Administrator
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Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions from EU Transport

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Between 1990 and 2013 the EU-28 population grew by about 30 million. During the same period the number of cars rose by around 84 million. Transport demand (strongly) increased in parallel, and so did the related fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions: the significant progress made on fuel quality and vehicle efficiency were not sufficient to offset increasing traffic volumes. GHGs emissions from transport increased by 22% over the period. Transport is the only sector in the EU where GHGs emissions have risen since 1990.

Conversely, advances in technologies have significantly reduced emissions of air pollutants in spite of traffic growth. However, transportation remains one of the major sources of atmospheric pollution, notably in urban areas. The ever increasing number of diesel engines and booming air and maritime transport have a negative impact in this respect.

When considering the development of transport demand/emissions over the past quarter of a century, it is important to stress that the 2008 economic downturn marked a clear break. While there is a rising trend throughout the period, demand and emissions have being going down since the beginning of the economic crisis – with the notable exception of air transport.

The recent decline in transportation emissions is therefore (at least partly) cyclical and due to the poor economic situation. This should be kept in mind when assessing the capacity of the transport system to meet the relevant EU environmental goals.

The following should also be kept in mind when looking at the figures: the environmental performance of road vehicles is notoriously overestimated. The laboratory tests used to measure ‘official’ fuel consumption/emissions3 underestimate consumption/emissions in real life. This was true even without the frauds recently denounced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It is in this  context that the EU type-approval system is in the (much-debated) process of being (partly) reviewed.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/563-409

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