Recession cuts transport demand, pollution-EU agency
*Transport sector contributes 4 percent to fall in air pollution * Real terms petrol price rise under 0.5 percentage points/year
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Nov 10 (Reuters)
Transport pollution fell for a second year in 2009 in European countries as recession cut demand, clearing the way for a social shift from the assumption car ownership is almost a necessity, the head of the European Environment Agency said.
Published on Thursday, the latest report from the EEA, an arm of the European Union, found emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants from transport had fallen.
Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA, which covers EU countries and some neighbouring states, said the two years of decline had the potential to mark a permanent change after more than a decade of rising transport emissions.
"Now we need to see a more fundamental shift in Europe's transport system so that emissions do not increase even in times of strong growth," she said.
In this sense, the deep economic crisis in Europe could be an opportunity.
"I'm not saying it's going to be a Nirvana, but we can begin to see the sector's transformation," she told Reuters in an interview.
"That car ownership is not a necessity is what Europe has to face," she said. "As people become less financially secure, car sharing might be a good option."
The latest data on transport is for 2009, following on from an EEA report earlier this year, which showed the EU was on track to achieving carbon cuts under the Kyoto Protocol to combat climate change.
Its total greenhouse gas emissions rose 2.4 percent in 2010, but that followed a 7 percent drop in 2009 because of recession and increased use of renewable power.
The transport sector -- excluding "bunkers" or shipping and aviation -- contributed a 2.6 percent decline in 2009 to the reduction in the main air pollutants.
It was still responsible for 24 percent of all EU greenhouse gas emissions.
Between 2008 and 2009, aviation emissions fell by 6.9 percent, while shipping fell by 10 percent.
Even with the fall, air quality in parts of the EU is below some World Health Organization standards, with serious health implications, the EEA said in a separate report on Wednesday. [ID:nL6E7M94O8]
Between 2007, when demand hit a peak, and 2009, overall energy consumption also dropped by 4 percent, while energy use for aviation, rail transport and domestic use fell by 4.9 percent to 5.6 percent.
BIGGEST ENERGY CONSUMER
Road transport represents the largest energy consumer, accounting for 73 percent of total demand in 2009.
As evidence of the inelasticity of motor demand, it was the least affected by the downturn, falling by only 2.8 percent between 2007 and 2009.
That compares with a 32 percent increase in total energy transport consumption for the entire period 1990 and 2009.
Even with oil prices above $100 a barrel LCOc1, fuel prices have not sent "strong signals to encourage more efficient transport choices," the EEA said.
The average real price of road transport fuels was 1.14 euros ($1.5) per litre in June 2011, in real terms 15 percent higher than in 1980, it said.
This means that the price of petrol has increased by less than 0.5 percentage points per year on average in real terms.
As it seeks to wean itself off fossil fuels, the EU has set itself binding targets beyond the Kyoto Protocol of cutting its carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and increasing the share of renewables in its energy mix by 20 percent.
It also has a series of road maps to create a framework for investment and future legislation on deeper emissions cuts beyond 2020.
For transport, road map goals include a 60 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2050.
McGlade said the need was to not place the various EU targets "in silos", but to see them as a whole.
A shift to electric cars, for instance, has obvious synergies with EU planning on more efficient, greener grid infrastructure. ($1 = 0.736 Euros) (Editing by James Jukwey; Barbara.hm.Lewis@thomsonreuters.com+32 287 68 43)