Why railway transport matters to sustainability goals

Posted: 11 April 2014 | Libor Lochman, Executive Director, CER and Global Railway Review Editorial Board Member / Edward Hunter Christie, Chief Economist, CER / Ethem Pekin, Environment Economist, CER | No comments yet

Transport poses two major sustainability challenges: greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and dependence on imported oil. Railway transportation has very favourable characteristics on both counts, making modal shift in favour of rail a naturally attractive policy goal.

Europe’s transport system has so far failed to keep up with the other main sectors of the economy in terms of decarbonisation. The EU’s total GHG emissions were roughly 18% lower in 2011 compared to 1990, a positive development in line with the EU’s 20% reduction target by 2020. The total level of GHG emissions fell by 34% in manufacturing and construction1, by 23% in agriculture and by 16% in the energy industry between 1990 and 2011. On the other hand, emissions from transport were 19% higher in 2011 compared to 1990. As a result, transport now accounts for 20% of total emissions as opposed to just 14% in 1990. Transport emissions are fast becoming a significant obstacle to Europe’s climate policy goals.

It cannot be the case that most sectors and industries continue to make major contributions to decarbonisation while transport contributes negatively to the overall effort. A major re-orientation of the transport system is therefore essential if long-term carbon reduction targets are to be achieved. After much hesitation, an emissions reduction target was finally defined for the transport sector in the European Comm – ission’s 2011 Transport White Paper, committing the EU to achieving a reduction of 60% of total GHG emissions in transport compared to the 1990 level by 2050.

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