Transport and climate change
International Union of Railways (UIC)
Transport was singled out in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 as a priority area for
sustainable development. But the sector now accounts for approximately 30%
of global CO2 emissions - making it the second largest contributor after the
electricity and heat supply sector. This is not because of a lack of effort: fuel
is cleaner today; many cars and other vehicles are far less polluting and more
environmentally-friendly both in their production and in their performance.
The main reason for this is the enormous increase in demand in both passenger
and freight services. While the world population currently grows less than 1-3%
annually, the world’s car fleet is growing at more than 6% a year. If developing
countries adopt the western travel patterns, the number of cars and commercial
vehicles, currently 800 million, will rise to 1.6 billion by 2030, approximately
one vehicle for every five people on the planet
(based on present population growth estimates).
According to the European Transport Forum
(2003), this growth will be seen mostly in
countries such as Brazil, China, India, Korea,
Mexico, Russia and Thailand as people enjoying
greater prosperity seek to increase individual
mobility. Aviation alone, if unchecked, will
produce the amount of CO2 emissions allowed
by the Protocol for the whole of Europe in 2050.
In spring 2006 the European Environment
Agency launched its 2005 TERM report
challenging politicians to solve the dilemma
between transport and environment policies
- asking for more political courage to achieve
the needed modal shift. The EEA report states
that there is a gap between ambitious aims
on how to achieve a sustainable development
in the European transport sector and what is
actually happening. Faced with the alarming
figures above, emerging economies can not
afford to make the same mistake.
The transport sector needs more attention and to be fully integrated into the
climate change framework. International aviation and shipping are not included in
the national aims set by the Kyoto Protocol and there seems to be a general lack
of knowledge on transportation and its consequences for climate change.
Railways continue to improve
Despite technological advances, transport is not developing in sustainable
ways. Railways are crucial to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating
sustainable transport systems. They offer the most energy efficient performance
both according to passenger/km and tonne/km. A shift of 3% from road to rail
transport corresponds to 10% decrease in GHG-emissions. Moving from road to
rail is key to achieving the Kyoto Protocol targets and beyond - and, at the same
time, a sustainable global transport policy for the future.
However the rail sector is not resting on its obvious energy efficiency advantage
compared to other modes of transport, but is continuously working on how
improve this, both on company and sector levels.
In 2002 the German Railways reached their aim of reducing their energy
consumption by 25% of the 1990 level, three years ahead of schedule, and have
already set ambitious aims for reducing energy consumption with a further
15-25% (depending on the framework conditions) by 2020. These results
and ambitions are because of, among others, the ongoing”EnergieSparen”
(Save Energy) project, to reduce energy consumption to 10% by teaching and
encouraging drivers to drive in a more energy-efficient way. This method is now
adapted by several European railways. In the United States, where rail is the
leading mode for freight transport with a market share of 40%, fuel efficiency
increased by more than 60% between 1980 and 2001.
On the sector level all railway-relevant technology which can improve energy efficiency has been brought together and assessed for potential to reduce
energy consumption. These evaluations are in an internet database that can be
researched according to different criteria (www.railway-energy.org). In September
2006 these results will be taken further to jointly increase the energy efficiency of
the European rail fleet in a new EU-financed project, RailEnergy.
Achieving sustainable development
Transport policies should focus on how to establish smart sustainable transport
systems giving people incentives to change their travel habits. Two essential
measures need to be integrated into policy and decision-making on transport as
soon as possible.
Firstly, there needs to be an equal playing field for modes of transport. The
‘polluter pays principle’ was adopted by the 1992 Rio Declaration, but today’s
prices are far from reflecting the external costs of the transport market. According
to a 2004 study (IWW/INFRAS 2004), the external costs (mostly comprising air
and noise pollution, accident costs, climate change) amount to just over 7% of
the GDP of 17 European countries. In total, the road sector is responsible for over
80% of external cost damage; the aviation sector for nearly 15%, and the railways
for just under 2%.
Secondly, appropriate policies to exploit the railways’ CO2 reduction potential
for society must include investments in infrastructure in both developing and
developed countries. A robust rail system will be crucial to cope with the current
population growth and urban area expansion, and the resulting increase in travel
and mobility demands. By establishing a basic infrastructure, the railways can
become a cornerstone, linking urban hubs as well as suburban conglomerations for
passengers, for the benefit and mobility of a broader population.
As well as being an answer to the problem of climate change, railways offer
efficient transport built on social equity, low environmental impact and positive
economic growth, resulting in more sustainable mobility and an improved quality