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Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) and Observatorio de la Sostenibilidad en España (OSE)

Transport and mobility: the keys to sustainability

Transport is an important factor in the context of sustainable development due to the pressure it places on the environment, its, economic and social impacts, and its linkages with other sectors. The sector has been growing continuously in recent years and this trend is forecast to continue, making a strategy for sustainable transport a priority at local, national, European and global levels.

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Transport and mobility in the context of sustainable development
Modern societies demand a high degree of mobility of a variety of types. This makes a complex transport system adapted to social needs essential, so as to ensure people can move and goods be transported in ways that are safe and economically efficient. Moreover, it must be subject to today’s demands HIGHLIGHTSProfile: Luis M. Jiménez Herrero
environmental rationality and the new logic of sustainability paradigms. From this viewpoint, an efficient and flexible transport system that offers intelligent and sustainable patterns of mobility is essential for the health of our economy and our standard of living. The current transport system presents significant and growing challenges for the environment, human health and sustainability. Current schemes of mobility have become highly reliant on private vehicles, which have shaped citizens’ lifestyles and the layout of our cities, with the consequent impacts for sustainable land use in urban areas and their hinterlands.

Transport is an important factor in the context of sustain-able development due to the pressure it places on the en-vironment, its economic and social impacts, and its linkages with other sectors. The sector has been growing continuously in recent years and this trend is forecast to continue –despite the current dip caused by the crisis– making a strategy for sustainable transport a priority at local, national, European and global levels.

Interactions between urban mobility and land use patterns

Mobility brings a variety of bene-fits. However, affordable and safe means of transport have to be made available at lower social, environmental and economic cost. One Road transport represents 79.5% of total energy consumptionclear goal is to optimise the use of materials, energy and information in an intelligent and efficient way so as to minimise the environmental impacts of urban and interurban transport while satisfying the local and global mobility needs of goods and people. Improving the mobility of passengers using means that are sustainable, safe and high-quality is essential in order to reduce congestion in urban and metropolitan areas. In the case of interurban mobility, the prerequisite is proper infrastructure networks and spatial planning, integrating the en-vironment in a crosscutting way and factoring in all the external and social costs, without forgetting the scourge of accidents.

Reducing the problems of urban congestion and stress will benefit businesses and citizens in the form of lower costs, time savings and improved accessibility. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels and cutting levels of pollution and green house gas (GHG) emissions will benefit human and ecosystem health and the climate system. These are all clear benefits to be obtained from new more sustainable transport systems aiming for rational mobility.

Urban mobility is acquiring a more and more central role. The world is increasingly urban and ever more mobile, travelling both domestically and abroad (with 1.8 billion tourists forecast for 2020). Today, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. In the EU, 80% of the population lives in urban areas, although in Spain the figure is 70%. Making the transition to urban sustainability requires a new culture of cities and spatial planning that takes a new ecosystem approach, based on a holistic view of the region concerned, avoiding oversimplifications, and taking travel both within and into and out of the region into account.

In any event, cities need models of smart mobility based sustainable transport systems to boost economic efficiency, environmental health and the well-being of their inhabitants. Cities are where the problems are concentrated. Although they only account for 1% of land area they consume over 75% of total energy and produce 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. However, they are also big economic subsystems accounting for the lion’s share of production and consumption (85% of the EU’s GDP is generated in cities), and where solutions based on governance capabilities are focused. If our cities are not sustainable, our planet, as a global ecosystem, will not be either.

Urban sustainability requires rational mobility and sustainable transport that has a bearing on the environment (GHG emissions, air pollution, noise, impacts on external ecosystems), the economy (efficiency and competitiveness, affected by congestion) and society (in terms of conditions of health, cohesion and integration, demographic change, accessibility and habitability).

We need strategies, plans of action and regulations/standards that are demanding and consistent with the responsibility of mobility and transport in sustainable future scen-ario, as various measures at the EU level and in Spain propose. In the case of Spain, actions for sustainable mobility come under the Estrategia de Movilidad Urbana (urban mobility strategy) with the triple axes of sustainability (environmental, economic and social) and in the Spanish urban and local sustain-ability strategy (Estrategia Española de Sostenibilidad Urbana y Local, EESUL), which makes urban mobility a strategic objective. The urban mobility strategy, defined based on environmental, economic and social sustainability criteria, has set objectives in five areas: 1) spatial planning and planning of transport and Mobility brings a variety of benefits. However, affordable and safe means of transport have to be made available at lower social, environmental and economic costtransport infrastructure; 2) combating climate change and reducing energy dependence; 3) improving air quality and reducing noise; 4) enhancing safety and health; and, 5) demand management. Mobility is also a priority objective of the Spanish Local and Urban Sustainability Strategy (EESUL), which furthermore incorporates general object-ives regarding town plan-ning, urban management, building and relations between the urban and rural worlds.

The construction of a model of sustainable mobility requires planning and participation processes which are hinged on a modern and flexible transport sector. However, a holistic approach also needs to be taken that includes other sectors, such as energy, and considers the different urban and inter-urban patterns of mobility, urban growth and spatial issues, together with social and demographic processes which have mobility impacts, so as to be able to devise integrated and consistent solutions. It also needs to accept that this is complex. Integrating mobility and transport in town and country planning with a bigger dose of administrative co-ordination and cooperation is fundamental to minimising the external costs and impacts of linear structures on ecosystems, biodiversity, landscape and in terms of spatial fragmentation.

The interwoven phenomena referred to as the “three Ts” (transport-tourism-territory) is a challenge for balanced and sustainable development which has particular relevance in Spain. The combined effects of the three factors pose new risks of the economic and spatial planning model’s becoming unsustainable. It is worth mentioning that during the preceding phase of economic expansion prior to the current recession, as economic activity picked up there was a parallel increase in demand for transport, particularly by road and air. And although vehicle efficiencies have increased and fuels improved, no significant gains have been seen in air quality, as the performance benefits obtained have been cancelled out by the increase in passenger numbers and volumes of goods transported. Moreover, during the rapid economic growth from the mid-90s up until the crisis in 2007, the impact of transport has been linked to a process of uncurbed urban sprawl, which has further increased mobility costs, while the frenetic building of infrastructure has had direct impacts in terms of spatial fragmentation and alterations to habitats and landscapes, and in the structure and function of ecosystems.

Eco-efficiency and technology for smarter and more sustainable transport
The relationship between transport and the environment from the efficiency perspective has become one of the nerve centres of sustainability, given that achieving an absolute decoupling –not just relative decoupling– between socio-economic processes and environmental pressures and unsustainable dynamics is the sin qua non for any processes of sustainability to work. The idea is to move people, and to produce, consume and transport goods in a way that uses fewer resources and has less environmental impact. The decoupling of economic forces and environmental pressures not only calls for “dematerialisation,” but also the “de-energisation” and “decarbonisation” of our production, consumption and transport systems. For this reason a progressive reduction in the energy and carbon intensity of production and consumption and transport systems is generally recognised to be a key factor in shifting the economy onto a more sustainable footing.

Increasing the factors of prod-uctivity in a more economically and technologically rational way is important but is not sufficient on its own. It is essential to avoid the “volume” effect and the “rebound,” effect which may partially cancel out the net environmental efficiency and productivity gains. For example, an increase in the number of vehicles on the road, and/or increased ve-hicle use as drivers are aware that they consume less, could offset the reduction in net gains from improved vehicle efficiency. New information and communication technologies (ICT) can make a decisive contribution, for example, by reducing the need for transport (modifying land use and promoting teleworking and videoconferencing), at the same time as their catalytic effects may improve planning, and operating systems may enable better use to be made of infrastructure and vehicles.

So-called Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are becoming a reference axis for the promotion of more sustainable and rational urban mobility. This approach, which has strong backing from the EU, and embraces a variety of technologies, such as electronic tickets and payments, traffic management, travel information, access control, demand management, and smart cards for urban transport, in airports, railway and bus stations. These new technol-ogies will make it possible to offer citizens new services and enable improved real-time management of traffic and capacity use, as well as enabling traceability and monitoring of transport flows for environmental and safety purposes.

The sustainability of transport in Spain. Basic indicators
The transport sector has a key role to play in the sustainability the Spanish model of development. It is central to meeting the environmental, economic and social requirements of modern spatial mobility.

The structure of the energy supply in the transport sector is based mainly on imported fossil fuels. As well as the emissions this leads to, it implies a high degree of energy dependence. The impact of the transport sector in terms of energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions, is one of the biggest challenges for both energy sustainability and climate change mitigation. Transport is the sector The interwoven phenomena referred to as the “three Ts” i.e. transport/tourism/territory represent a challenge for balanced and sustainable developmentwhich accounts for the biggest share of energy consumption (40% of total consumption), which implies a significant impact on global warming. GHG emissions from road transport in 2009 accounted for 22.8% of the total and since 1990 they have grown by 71%. The reduction seen in recent years is due above all to the economic crisis, the increase in fuel prices, fewer journeys to work and goods transport.

The transport sector’s large share of total national energy consumption is linked to the increase in mobility and levels of vehicle use. These factors go a long way towards explaining the variation in energy intensity of this sector, expressed in terms of energy consumption of the transport sector relative to gross domestic product (GDP), which is a basic indicator of eco-efficiency and decoup-ling. Over the period 1990-2009 transport’s energy intensity followed an upward trend in the first seven years, with growing energy use, in general, at rates above those of GDP growth. Since 2004 the energy intensity of transport in Spain has been on a downward path, although it remains 40-50% above the European average.

Road transport is the biggest energy consumer in the transport sector (79.5%). It is followed in second place by maritime transport (14%). The modes of transport with the smallest percentages are air (4%) and rail (2.8%), according to 2008 data. In the European Union, the share of road transport in total energy consumption by the transport sector came to over 80% in Germany France and Italy.

An efficient and flexible transport system is essential for our economy and our living standards. Studies by INFRAS-IWW estimate that the external costs of transport may be as much as 7% of GDP in Spain, a value slightly below the European average (8-9% of GDP in the EU, according to estimates by the European environment agency). In the case of interurban mobility, correct planning of infrastructure networks, in a way that takes environment criteria into account, is a prerequisite for minimising transport’s negative impacts.

Air pollution, which in cities is largely due to road traffic, has a negative impact on the envir-onment and on citizens’ quality of life. It is an acute, cumulative and chronic threat to human health and the environment. It is estimated that in the European Union exposure to particles translates into a decrease of between nine months and two years of citizens’ life expectancy.

In Spain, according to the Clean Air for Europe programme (CAFE), air pollution causes an annual cost of between 1.7% and 4.7% of the country’s GDP, which is equivalent to between €413 and €1,125 per inhabitant a year. As in the rest of Europe, the biggest costs are associated with the chronic mortality associated with particle pollution.

Accidents are also a serious problem, with fatalities from road-traffic accidents on urban and main roads being the main cause of death among the under 30s, although there has been a sustained downward trend in recent years. In 2009, the number of road accident fatalities fell by 13% from the previous year, and the number of accidents also dropped significantly (12.3%). Nevertheless the rate of fatal accidents in Spain remains above the European average.

The Spanish transport model continues to show signs of unsustainability in the case of both goods and passengers, characterised by high levels of dependence on private ve-hicles and considerable energy inefficiency. In 2009, road transport continued to be the most widely used mode for passenger transport (90%), to the detriment of other more sustainable modes such as rail (5%).

In order to tackle the problem of the unsustainability of the transport sector and it is ne-cessary to integrate mobility policies with environmental and land use planning po-licies, and to ensure fuller citizen participation, information transparency and social education to promote integrated sustainability.

Profile: Luis M. Jiménez Herrero

Has a doctorate and degree in Economics and Business Science from the Madrid Complutense University (UCM), a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Madrid Polytechnic University (UPM), a diploma in Petroleum Engineering (UCM and UPM) and a diploma in Project Assessment (DSE, Berlin, Germany).

He has a long track record in consultancy, project engineering, environmental management and sustainable development. He has performed a variety of roles both with government and in the private sector in relation to the environment and sustainable development. He has been an executive advisor on the Environment at the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and the Environment (MOPTMA), and has been director of the Environment United at Argentaria, and he has worked with Price Waterhouse Coopers as director of the Environmental and Sustainability Consultancy Division. He has also performed in a professional consultancy capacity with the firm Asesores de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible, where he ran several projects on regional and local sustainability (Local Agenda 21) and sustainable tourism.

He is currently the executive director of the Observatorio de la Sostenibilidad en España (Spanish Sustainability Observatory), an independent body whose mission is to analyse processes of sustainable development and promote society’s shift towards sustainability. He is also professor of Environmental Economics and Development and Sustainable Development and Ecological Economics at the Economics Faculty of the Madrid Complutense University’s Environmental Sciences University Institute (Instituto Universitario de Ciencias Ambientales, IUCA).

Published in No. 04

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