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Home > Rail & the environment > Background

Background

Friday 11 March 2011, by Maguelonne de Cossart

Transport plays a vital role within a global economy. An efficient transport system is of crucial importance for the competitiveness of the economy and the mobility of citizens. It brings enormous benefits to society but also enormous costs. At the first World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 1992 in Rio, transport was pointed out as a key area in order to achieve sustainable development and to reduce the effects of climate changes. Transport is responsible for around 22% of CO2 emissions and in the last years the awareness of transport’s impact on the environment (energy consumption, C02 emissions and local pollution etc) has increased enormously.

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Transport and Sustainability

Despite all the technological advances transport is not developing in a sustainable way. The main reason is the enormous increase in demand for both passenger and freight services. Nowadays the road sector is responsible for over 80% of the sector’s energy consumption. Emissions from the aviation sector are increasing rapidly. Today aviation is the second largest emitter of CO2 accounting for more than 13% of the total transportation energy use in Europe - emitting on a higher altitude and thus creating more damage than indicated by the per cent figure.

Therefore transport needs special attention in relation to combating the climate change. Today transport is not targeted especially because it is up to each country that has ratified the Kyoto Protocol to to define how it will achive the national target it has signed up for. This also disqualifies emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping from being targetted by the Kyoto Protocol. The development in CO2 emissions from the transportation sector requires that we target transportation urgently if we want to achieve a sustainable emission level.

JPEGIndividual travellers as well as public organisations and business companies feel increasingly responsible for the carbon footprints of their activities. The decisions we all take every day (driving or cycling, taking the car or the plane, etc.) have important consequences on the sustainable development of the planet. Therefore, reliable data and right indicators for evaluating the environmental performance of the transport modes are strongly much needed in order to improve and “getting climate right for transport”.

Rail is the backbone of sustainable mobility

However, in this picture, railways offer the backbone of sustainable mobility – offering the most efficient transport built on very low environmental impact, positive economic growth and social equality. Railways are crucial in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing sustainable transport systems. They provide the most energy efficient performance both in passenger/km and tonne/km. However the rail sector is far from resting at its laurels.
Hence the work of the Environment and Sustainability Team of UIC is focusing on continuously improving the environment and sustainability performance of rail. This work includes in particular energy efficiency and CO2, emissions reduction, noise reduction, soil pollution, sustainable mobility and external costs.

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UIC is strongly dedicated to promote rail as part of the solution of the future climate regime and in how to develop sustainable transport systems. UIC, together with its members, is continuously working to improve the environmental and sustainability performance of the rail sector, including mitigation and adaptation to tackle the cause and the effects of the global warming.
Read more on http://www.railway-sustainability.org/spip.php?article72

The challenges of achieveing a sustainable development in the transport sector is however about more than tackling the GHG-emissions. Read more about UIC’s work on how to include more aspects of these challenges here.