Transport emission reductions hampered by EU internal policy processes, new research finds


Current policy processes at the European Commission are having a detrimental effect on achieving reductions in harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. A recently published study in the Journal of Transport and Geography reports on interviews of policy officers in three Directorates-General of the European Commission on responsibilities for policy development and implementation, their understanding of mitigation goals and timelines, and whether the policy process is on track to achieve climate objectives for the transport sector. The surprising results showed that:

  • Existing policies are seen to lack sufficient ambition and there is internal disagreement over who is responsible for policy development.
  • Scarcity of data is regarded as a problem, especially in knowing whether the EU is on track to meet targets.
  • Some policy officers are favouring economic goals over environmental ones, and their own professional backgrounds in industry are creating a bias towards serving the interests of industry lobby groups.
  • There is seen to be unfair lenience towards the aviation and automobile industries, yet these contribute to pollution the most.
  • Policy officers are pinning their hopes on new ‘silver bullet’ technologies that do not yet, and probably will not, exist, to help reduce emissions. Behavioural change is perceived to be too complex.
  • Stronger leadership on climate mitigation for the transport sector is needed at the highest levels within and between the Directorates-General.

journal-of-transport-and-geographyWe interviewed the co-author of the study, Dr Scott Cohen from the University of Surrey, who explained how their study “has revealed that there are fundamental problems with the European Union’s policy processes governing the climate change targets. It is clear that these need to be addressed urgently if we are to have any hope of introducing transport policies that will have any significance in global efforts to mitigate climate change.”

There is seen to be unfair lenience towards the aviation and automobile industries, yet these contribute to pollution the most.

Travindy readers already know that transport is a significant and growing contributor to climate change. To play its part in achieving ‘safe’ global warming levels, substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are needed. Within the European Union, pledges have been made to reduce the sector’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020, and 40% by 2030, compared to 1990. Yet these pledges are hollow.

With the share of transport emissions increasing from 18.8% in 1990 to 25.3% in 2012 and with the likelihood of this number continuing to rise, it has become crucial to address climate change objectives specifically in the transport sector. Yet we need political leadership to implement a meaningful roadmap that goes beyond aspirational rhetoric.

Gössling, S., Cohen, S. and Hares, A. (2016), Inside the black box: EU policy officers’ perspectives on transport and climate change mitigation, Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 57, 83–93.

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This article is part of our new series reporting on the latest research into tourism, sustainability and communication, written by our Head of Impact Professor Xavier Font, who is also Professor of Sustainability Marketing at the University of Surrey’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. If you want to know how the latest thinking can help your business, this is where you will find it.

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