Transport accounts for an up to 30% of CO2 emissions in the EU, with estimates claiming that emissions from that sector rose 36% between 1990 and 2007. 

A new analysis conducted by Lund University and the University of Surrey takes on the widely-held view that new technologies, such as biofuel and improved aircraft design, will result in carbon reduction targets being met. 

In their paper, the scholars note that policy makers are turning to the perceived benefits of those technologies to drive decarbonization policy, though evidence is just as lacking for them as there is for estimates of emissions increases due to transportation. The authors argue that in order to cut carbon emissions, politicians need to address 'transport taboos' rather than focus just on technological innovation. 


Transport taboos are talk about Europeans' desire to take vacations every summer using airplane flights or Greenpeace executives long-distance commuting from one country to another (the EU is not alone - in the United States, the head of the EPA also commutes by airline each week). Along with vacations, which highlight the unjust relationship between mobility and income, other undiscussed taboos are the powerful position of lobbyists and industry in influencing policy. 

They found that it is the most highly mobile and environmentally aware travelers who refuse to reduce travel. The authors found that policies which challenged these taboos are regarded as serious threats to political position and are therefore ignored by politicians.

"This study shows what a pervasive force the transport industry is in influencing carbon-reduction policy. Politicians continue to ignore evidence of what works in favor of optimistic headlines about technological innovation, driven by industry and lobbyists," said co-author, Dr Scott Cohen from the University of Surrey. "There is a lot of exaggeration surrounding 'wonder' technologies that promise to reduce carbon levels while allowing privileged sections of society to continue to travel without limits. These optimistic claims are largely undebated in political circles, as this would force politicians to face some harsh truths.

"The richest and politically powerful contribute the most to global carbon emissions. Ironically they are offered rewards for this behavior with air miles, as well as earning prestige among peers who view international travel as a status symbol. Our research explores how these transport taboos are driving policies that are contradictory to carbon emission targets. For example, energy intensive air transport is the least taxed and most subsidized. In one year, Ryanair received subsidies of 800m Euro while encouraging frequent, low-cost flight. Rather than maintain the status quo, we need to start challenging these damaging norms." 


Published in the Journal of Transport Geography. Source: University of Surrey