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GEO Year Book 2004/5  
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Figure 3: Change in species abundance

Note: The percentages give an indication of the average number of individuals per species still present as compared to the original (undisturbed) number of individuals.
Source: GLOBIO 3

Transport demand continues to grow rapidly in all of Europe and remains a major environmental threat. In Western Europe, freight transport by road continues to grow faster than the overall economy. In Central and Eastern Europe, after the economic stagnation of the 1990s, road transport is increasing again, especially passenger transport (UNEP 2004, EEA 2004c, OECD 2004).

Passenger transport is boosted by increased car use for commuting, leisure and tourism. Freight volumes are increasing due to the EU expansion and the growing internationalization of markets. Other factors boosting freight include new production and delivery structures (outsourcing, low-storage production, decentralization, just-in-time delivery), and new freight services (notably express services).

Unsustainable mobility patterns in Europe have increasingly negative impacts on human health, buildings and habitat fragmentation (Figure 3). Human health is affected by air pollution problems, as well traffic noise, road accidents, congestion and reduction in physical exercise. Particulate emissions are thought to be responsible for some 120 000 fatalities per year in Western Europe alone (INFRAS/IWW 2004).

Air quality trends in Europe have shown significant improvements, but more reductions are needed (EEA 2004b, OECD 2004). Ground-level ozone still causes serious problems (EEA 2004b, OECD 2004, ESA 2004). Recent monitoring by the European Space Agency (ESA) Earth observing satellite ENVISAT showed large parts of the Netherlands, the German Ruhr area and the Italian Po valley among the areas with the highest NO2; concentration in the world (ESA 2004).

In reducing the environmental impacts of transport, decoupling transport demand from economic growth is a key challenge all over Europe. Improvements so far can be attributed to voluntary action by the private sector, to EU legislation, and to the 1999 UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. Legislation has stimulated technological innovation to limit emissions, for example, reducing the lead and sulphur content in fuels (Box 2).

Box 2: Taxing leaded petrol out of existence

Even at low concentrations lead can cause harmful effects for human health, and can bio-accumulate. In Western Europe, efforts to reduce lead emissions started in the early 1990s, through taxes and regulatory measures. In Central and Eastern Europe, the Sofia Initiative on Local Air Pollution has helped to reduce emissions of lead and sulphur. And the 1999 UNECE/CLRTAP Protocol on Heavy Metals, which deals with controlling emissions, includes lead (UNECE 2004).

Differential taxation of leaded and unleaded petrol is a good example of using market-based instruments to reduce the environmental impact of transport. In Western Europe this has led to a complete phase-out of leaded petrol (EEA 2004b), which is now also absent in nearly all of Eastern Europe (OECD 2004). In Central Europe, the situation varies. Several countries levy higher taxes on leaded than on unleaded petrol, and in some countries leaded petrol is no longer sold (EEA 2004b).

Most of the measures taken so far have been easy and/or inexpensive. Future innovations should focus on reducing emissions, congestion, noise, road deaths and injuries, and on enhanced mobility opportunities for vulnerable groups in society (WBCSD 2004).

Prices should be adjusted to cover the full external costs caused by transport activities. Improved regulation and financial incentives can promote such price adjustments (EEA 2004a, OECD 2004). In general, financial instruments are more common in Western than in Central or Eastern Europe. Charges and taxes so far mostly concentrate on air pollution in the road sector (Box 2) and noise in the aviation sector. Only a few measures have yet been taken to internalize the costs of congestion in urban areas (Box 3).

Box 3: Successful road pricing fights congestion in big cities

Concerns over public acceptability and costs to motorists dominate public debate about road pricing across Europe, challenging environmental gains on economic and social grounds. Urban road pricing is nonetheless gaining momentum.

In 2003 the city of London introduced a controversial but eventually very successful congestion charge - a flat-rate charge for daytime travel in central London. After one year's operation this resulted in a 15 per cent reduction in traffic inside the charging zone, and a 30 per cent reduction in traffic delays (TFL 2004). Building on this success, the UK Department for Transport conducted a study to review the feasibility of a national road pricing system. The study concluded that national road pricing is feasible and could meet government objectives (DFT 2004).

Other European cities such as Rome and Oslo have now introduced similar, albeit more modest, initiatives. Copenhagen, Milan and a few smaller cities are likely to follow suit. Recent modelling results for the city of Paris show that, contrary to prevailing wisdom, urban road pricing need not take a greater portion of income from those in lower levels than from those in upper income levels (CERNA 2004).

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