Jens Schippl, Ida Leisner, Per Kaspersen, Anders Koed Madsen

The Future of European long-distance transport
Scenario Report

STOA Final Study 12/27/37 (IP/A/STOA/FWC-2005-28/SC27). Brussels: European Parliament 2008
[Volltext/pdf / 723 kb]   [Contents]


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How could European long-distance transport - under different conditions and in different contexts - meet the following targets in 2047:

And what actions should be taken today and in the near future to make it happen? These were the questions that the STOA project set out to explore in a 3-phase project on the future of European long-distance transport. The first phase defined the trends and targets to frame the subsequent phase II which concerns building scenarios for 2047. The third phase involved citizens' assessment of the different possible actions to reach the targets. There are two central objectives of the scenario study which comprise the main part of the project:

In this report, the results of the scenario study are presented. The executive summary starts by highlighting the most important conclusions and then it gives an overview of the methodology and analysis made in the scenario study.


The challenges for the future of European long-distance transport:

From the analysis of the long-distance transport future images, it has become evident that to succeed in reaching the targets a combination of much improved vehicle technology, low carbon fuels, modal shift and strong demand management is necessary.

No single policy measures can solve the problems and reach the targets. We need to employ all measures available to achieve the 60% reduction of CO2 emissions and the 80% reduction of oil consumption. There are basically three parameters/three levers to work with:

The most important conclusion of the combined qualitative and quantitative assessments in the scenario study is that:

In the analysis of policy measures, it was decided to put focus on the two modes of transport that will contribute most to CO2 emission and oil consumption in the future: these are air transport in the passenger sector and trucking in the freight sector. From the analysis of possible policy measures the following actions are pointed out as important:

Is it possible to reach the targets? The methodology used is based on the concept of creating images that will reach the targets. In this study, it turned out that even with rather optimistic assumptions of the technologies to improve energy efficiency and carbon intensity, and by including modal shift, it would be necessary to reduce transport growth rates very much. Decoupling must take place.

This means that the accessibility target will be influenced. New concepts of accessibility not only geographical but functional accessibility - will have to be considered by means of virtual mobility, shorter journeys etc.

Methodology and analysis

The methodology used for building the scenarios is the backcasting approach. It is a normative methodology: targets are defined and different 'images of the future', in our case for the year 2047, are designed. Following on this, policy packages that could serve as pathways to these images are discussed.

A baseline scenario was calculated on the basis of publicly available DG TREN data. It demonstrates in a business-as-usual way transport volumes and emissions for 2047. This is to give an idea of the magnitude of change needed in view of the targets chosen for this project. In the project, a definition for long-distance transport was worked out. Based on that definition the system delimitations of the baseline scenario are designed.

Four different steps can be distinguished required to build a scenario according to the backcasting method:

  1. Identifying problems and targets
  2. Calculating a baseline scenario
  3. Designing images of 2047 to illustrate what a world, in which the targets are reached, would look like
  4. Analyse and assess technologies and policy packages that could serve as pathways from the present to the images of 2047.

It should be noted that in general, the long-distance sector is a highly relevant part of the overall transport system regarding CO2 emission, oil reduction and accessibility. For example, calculations made on basis of DG TREN data illustrate that the long-distance sector (as it is defined in this project) contributes with more than 50% to the overall CO2 emissions of the European transport sector.

Three different images are designed for 2047. Image I and image II describe more or less desirable futures, whereas the third image serves as a contrast. According to their main settings the images are given the following titles:

  1. Strong and rich high-tech Europe
  2. Slow and reflexive lifestyles
  3. Contrast image: economic pressure and expensive energy

Calculations have been made to illustrate in which way the targets could be reached according to the settings of the three images. Looking at the results it becomes obvious that reaching the targets is rather challenging if at the same time economic growth should be realised. The calculation illustrates that the three different images or futures require very strong technical innovations to improve energy efficiency and carbon intensity as well as a strong modal shift towards the rail sector. The competitiveness of the rail sector has to be improved extremely over the next decades if the targets should be reachable. Heavy improvements within infrastructure and technologies in this sector are inevitable. Important policy measures must include pricing oriented measures as well as heavy investments in research and development activities.

In general, there is an urgent need for technical improvements. On the one hand, these technologies are directly related to emissions and energy consumptions. A wide range of non oil-based options for road and air transport has been developed in the last decade, and some technologies are already commercialised. However, it is currently difficult to predict which technologies will emerge as the front runners for Europe, especially for the long-distance sector. Recent discussions on biofuels illustrates that the assessment of the benefits of technological pathways is not easy in complex systems and needs some time to develop.

On the other hand, a broad range of ICT applications can be identified that have a potential to indirectly support the reduction of energy and emission by optimising travel flow and reducing travel volumes.

Furthermore, it is possible to identify areas in which technologies are available but not consequently implemented because of a lack in regulations and harmonisation of European standards. A typical example is the rail sector. But also for the future development and commercialisation of technologies such as cleaner fuels or propulsion systems, a European harmonisation needs to be accelerated. Also in the air sector there is a potential to increase efficiency by regulative and organisational measures. The settings in image II allow a significant reduction in emissions just by reducing travel speeds.

Regarding policy measures it was decided to focus on the two modes of transport that will contribute most to CO2 emission and oil consumption in the future: these are air transport and trucking. It seems to be impossible to reach the targets if a considerable change will not occur regarding aviation and long-distance trucking. However, for all images it seems to be not at all easy to implement policies and technologies that allow reaching all three targets. It is quite ambitious to reduce CO2 emissions and oil consumption without it having a negative impact on the accessibility as it is defined in this project. The question could be raised as to what extent it is realistic to reach all three targets in the settings given in the different images. Otherwise a new concept of functional accessibility could be developed, with strong focus on virtual mobility.

Below the line, the report illustrates that there is a broad range of options to reduce emissions and oil consumption in the long-distance sector. However, the calculations made in this report illustrate as well that the 'gap' between the baseline projections and emission target is huge. It appears to be impossible to reach the targets of transport volumes according to the baseline calculations for 2047. Lower growth rates are needed (which still means strong growth compared to 2005). But as image I illustrates, even with a 30% reduction in growth compared to the baseline, heavy investments in technologies and infrastructure would be needed to achieve the targets.

Crucial assumptions made in the images are very optimistic. One example is the extremely high shares of biofuels in all images. Supply (and climate benefit) of biofuels is highly uncertain. There is the conflict with food production or the discussion on more efficient use of biomass in power generation and in industry processes. Also the modal shift and general technological progress assumed in the images are very optimistic and extremely challenging. But it was not possible to make the targets reachable without such extremely optimistic assumptions. To have some chance of reaching the targets a combination of much improved vehicle technology, low carbon fuels, modal shift and strong demand management is necessary. There is no simple solution.


[1]  According to EEA report 1/2008, 'Climate for at transport change', TERM 2007, freight transport grows faster than the economy.

[2]  Even -50% reduction compared to the baseline still means a growth in transport volume compared to 2005! than the economy.


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