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We’re running out of time to fix our harmful transport habits

Submitted by on 05 May 2018 – 17:15

Over two years ago, international leaders put climate action at the core of the global agenda when 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement, the first-ever universal, legally binding, global climate deal. Keith Taylor MEP says we are almost running out of time

The central goal of the Paris Agreement was to strengthen the collective response to the threat of climate change by limiting global average temperature rise this century to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while aiming to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

Addressing transport is significant for this commitment. The sector’s emissions keep rising, accounting for 25.8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU and 24 percent in the UK in 2015. Furthermore, transport is responsible for 70 percent of EU oil consumption, largely due to the explosive growth in road, maritime and air transport.

It is important to note that, disappointingly, emissions from international aviation and waterborne transport, referred to as the elephant in the room at the time of Paris negotiations, are not covered by the national reduction commitments.

I made it clear from the beginning that while Paris is an important stepping stone, what happens after is just as, if not more, important. Without bold policies and stringent implementation of measures to reduce our fossil fuel dependence, we won’t meet our climate targets. Moreover, without fundamental changes to how people and goods move about, we will not onlyfailto halt climate change but also increase our dependency on imported oil and risk a future energy supply crisis.

The World Meteorological Organization’s findings, published last November, that 2016 concentrations of atmospheric CO2 surged to levels not seen in 800,000 years, serve as a stark reminder that the time to combat climate change is running out.

Transport is also a major source of air pollution, which is linked to more than 400,000 premature deaths in the EU every year. Additionally, 70,000 premature deaths in Europe are caused by persistently high levels of nitrogen dioxide.

Millions suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases associated with poor air quality, and there are also potential links between pollutants and conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.

Unsurprisingly, poor air quality is most prevalent in urban areas with pollutants from motor and especially diesel vehicles one of the main causes of high particulate concentration in European cities.

The fact that up to 80 percent of EU citizens will soon live in urban areas and urban mobility accounts for 70 percent of transport pollutants and 40 percent of road transport CO2 emissions shows the level of urgency to shift to more sustainable transport modes. Logistics and distribution for ‘last mile deliveries’need to make better use of existing infrastructure and networks, tackling congestion and bottlenecks as well as exploring non-motorised solutions, such as cargo bikes.

There is huge potential for the creation of so-called intermodal sustainable mobility chains in cities, ie, facilitating the smooth flow of journeys that involve two or more modes of transport. One important factor in achieving this goal is to ensure compatibility between different European, urban and regional information systems, charging points and ticketing – often referred to as ‘interoperability’ – in order to make public transport more attractive. Sixty percent of urban trips are less than 6km, which should be a clear inducement to prioritise and invest in non-motorised mobility such as walking and cycling, in combination with public or collective transport systems, and, where possible, the integration of sustainable waterborne transport including inland waterways, canals and rivers.

Electric mobility is a part of the solution. However, the focus should be on e-bikes, public transport and shared cars. We should ensure that the energy consumed is sustainably produced and electric vehicles (EV) are assessed throughout their lifecycle, including recycling and reusing batteries.

Unfortunately many member states, including the UK, want to tackle the issue of traffic-induced air pollution by encouraging more private car ownership and expanding road-building schemes – despite the well-known fact that if you sow roads you harvest traffic. And with air pollutants not just coming from fuels, but also from braking, it is important to acknowledge that EVs are cleaner, but not emission-free.

Creating and expanding clean air zones across European cities is the most effective way to dissuade people from using their cars and reduce NO2 pollution and this should be combined with targeted scrappage schemes to take diesel vehicles off the road.

Finally, efforts are needed to coordinate EU projects, such as CIVITAS, Polis and Eltis, and include cities in the discussions about and implementation of new mobility policies. As an MEP, I have seen many positive examples where smart investment in public transport has reduced congestion and demand on the road network; for example, in the Öresund region, linking Copenhagen and Malmö, passenger rail has a 50 percent share and over 20 percent of daily trips in both cities are taken by bike. We have the knowledge and technology to make sustainable urban mobility a reality – let’s waste no more time!