Traffic turnaround: Why are emissions hardly falling?


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What does the traffic turnaround mean, how does it succeed and why has the transport sector not yet made a sufficient contribution to climate protection?

Whether and how a turnaround in traffic can be implemented is explained below.

Traffic turnaround: what is it?

The traffic turnaround pursues the goal of to make mobility more environmentally friendly, as the transport sector contributes significantly to climate change. With the help of certain measures, greenhouse gas emissions are therefore to be reduced as part of the traffic turnaround.

In 2019, around 805 million tons of greenhouse gases were emitted, by the end of 2030 it must not be more than 543 million tons – distributed across the various sectors such as energy, industry and transport. This sector coupling in particular should serve as an answer to the challenges of the energy transition. But the transport sector is developing into a problem case.

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Why traffic turnaround?

The transport sector not only has negative influences on the climate. City residents also suffer from noise, exhaust fumes and traffic jams. So the German transport system is in need of reform not only from an ecological but also from a social point of view. But let’s stay in the ecological area for now.

The transport sector is the only sector where greenhouse gas emissions have remained almost unchanged in recent years. While emissions were around 162 million tons in 2018, they will only fall to 159 million tons by 2030 – at least if no further climate protection efforts are considered. For comparison: the climate protection target in transport for 2030 is between 95 and 98 million tons of CO2 equivalents. That is a difference of around 60 million tons. Why is it so difficult for us to close this gap?

Traffic turnaround: Why aren’t emissions falling?

Germany was able to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 million tons in 2019. However, the transport sector has not contributed to this – quite the contrary. But what exactly are the problems in the transport sector?

road freight transport

In road freight transport, the absolute carbon dioxide emissions between 1995 and 2019, despite technical improvements – such as better engines, exhaust technology and better fuel quality – increased by about 21 percent. The reason for this is the increase in traffic. Mainly due to the corona pandemic, the burden of delivery traffic fueled by online trading has increased enormously.

car traffic

The situation is similar in car traffic. Although passenger cars are already more climate-neutral due to various emission regulations, the emission reductions achieved as a result are put into perspective by increased traffic. Between 1995 and 2019, car traffic increased by 20 percent. Technical improvements in the transport sector have so far not been able to relieve the climate, which is why the focus is now on Traffic efficiency, falling traffic demand or one changed mode of transport lies.

fuel consumption

In 2019, fuel consumption in German road traffic increased by two percent compared to 1995. While consumption fell at times due to increased fuel costs and the strengthening of alternative fuels as well as the reduction in specific fuel consumption for passenger cars, it has been rising again since 2010. The reason for this development is the increasing volume of traffic. Diesel consumption in particular has steadily increased since 1995. Even if particle emissions from new diesel cars have fallen and are now comparable with petrol cars, nitrogen oxide emissions are still higher than those from petrol cars. In addition, diesel has an energy content, so that although less fuel is required per kilometer, more carbon dioxide is emitted when it is burned. Power consumption has also increased in road freight transport – also due to the increase in traffic. A general reduction in fuel consumption is unthinkable, especially if the trend continues towards high-performance vehicles.

Traffic turnaround: How can mobility become more sustainable?

  • Expand public transport and make it more attractive
  • Promote active forms of mobility (cycle paths, footpaths, etc.)
  • Question private car use
  • Make car sharing more attractive
  • Alternative fuels, e-mobility
  • The use of alternative modes of transport such as inland waterways and freight trains as an alternative to road freight transport

Climate targets 2030: With the traffic turnaround to more climate protection

In order for the climate protection goals in Germany to be achieved by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from transport must be reduced immediately. To achieve this, most of the road freight traffic has to be shifted to the rails. And how can everyone be mobile according to their own needs without endangering the climate? In order to reduce emissions as quickly as possible, car journeys must be shifted to means of transport that are less harmful to the environment and climate. Car journeys are sometimes so short that they could easily be replaced by a bike or a walk. This is not only climate-friendly, but also healthier, cheaper and sometimes even faster. You benefit from active mobility in several areas of life. However, it is questionable how the turnaround in traffic will succeed in rural areas. Here, public transport must be expanded and made more attractive – just like car sharing. Above all, the federal, state and local governments are in demand here. They have to bear most of the additional costs for strengthening the environmental association. The fact is: The turnaround in traffic will not happen overnight. But it is possible if everyone recognizes the danger and works together towards the climate goal. Implementation must begin as soon as possible.

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