Transport in Europe is responsible for damaging levels of air pollutants and a quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the resulting environmental problems can be addressed by stepping up efforts to meet new EU targets, according to the latest report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
The EEA’s annual report under the Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) assesses the environmental impact of transport across Europe. There have been some improvements over recent years, although these can be partly attributed to reduced economic activity during the recession. As the economic climate improves, the new EU transport targets should focus efforts to further reduce environmental impacts, the report says.
Although air pollution has decreased over the last two decades, it is still a major problem in many areas. ‘Euro standards’ for vehicles have not succeeded in reducing real NO2 emissions to the levels set out in the legislation although they have made substantial improvements to air quality overall.
Increasing transport of goods is also leading to poor air quality. Freight was one of the main causes of the high levels of NO2. Increased shipping over the last two decades has also meant that emissions of acid rain-causing sulphur oxides have only decreased 14 % since 1990, despite major efficiency improvements.
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said: “One of the big challenges of the 21st Century will be to mitigate the negative effects of transport – greenhouse gases, air pollution and noise – while ensuring positive aspects of mobility. Europe can take the lead by intensifying its work in the area of technological innovation in electric mobility. Such change could transform inner city living.”
People living near busy roads across Europe are still particularly exposed to excessive air pollution levels. Harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels above legal limits were registered at 44 % of roadside air monitoring stations in 2010. Particulate matter (PM10) levels exceeded limits at 33 % of these sites. These pollutants can affect the cardiovascular system, lungs, liver, spleen and blood.