Paying for Pollution: Road Subsidies Promote Global Warming

26th February 2007
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Road transport subsidies of up to €140bn ($184bn) a year are preventing attempts to reduce Europe's greenhouse gas emissions.

A report from the European Environment Agency, to be released next week, highlights the role subsidies play in choices of transport. The report found €270bn-€290bn is spent annually in Europe in transport subsidies. Almost half goes to road transport, which the EEA said was "one of the least environmentally friendly" transport modes.

Disentangling the web of transport subsidies is complex, and the EEA will next month release a study showing in more detail how taxpayers fund road transport systems.

Emissions from transport rose by a quarter between 1990 and 2004, according to the report. It says rising emissions from transport are one of the biggest obstacles to tackling climate change.

Between 1990 and 2003, passenger transport volumes in the European Economic Area countries rose by 20 per cent. Air transport volumes increased at the highest rate but road transport was the biggest environmental problem, accounting for 93 per cent of greenhouse gases from transport.

The agency found that while emissions from transport had risen between 1990 and 2004, emissions from most other sectors, including energy supply, industry and agriculture, had dropped.

Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA, said there could be no softening of the EU's commitment to reduce traffic volumes. "We cannot deal with the increasing greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution and landscape fragmentation caused by transport without dealing with the increasing traffic across the spectrum: on our roads and railways, in the air and by sea," she said.

"Technical advances, such as cleaner, more fuel efficient engines are very important but we cannot innovate our way out of the emissions problem from transport."

Loss of Life

The report also examined the problem of pollution from transport and its effects on health. About a quarter of the population of the EU25 live less than 500m from a road carrying more than 3m vehicles per year. As a result, the EEA said, nearly 4m life-years are lost each year because of high pollution levels.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2007

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