European Environment Agency highlights night trains as alternative to aviation

Late January 2018 EEA has published their report Aviation and shipping — impacts on Europe’s environment.

The European Environment Agency publishes every year a status of the environmental impact of transport. It is always interesting.  This year the report is focusing on aviation and shipping. And for the first time, night trains are mentioned as a needed alternative to aviation.

The whole report is difficult to get due to a technical flaw on the website:

but here are the most important quotes.


3.5 What current mitigation options exists?


Currently, non-aviation transport modes mainly dominate shorter distance travel [High-speed trains], often for reasons of convenience and/or cost-competitiveness. However, for journeys greater than approximately 1000 km, non-aviation transport modes would need to offer substantial advantages to compete with the time and cost savings offered by aviation. These advantages could include improved comfort such as dining and sleeping facilities, efficient boarding internet access and remote working opportunities. (p. 29-30)


Furthermore, the high cost of aviation biofuels in the context of the low projected cost of carbon offsets mean that CORSIA [the industry proposal] alone will be unlikely to provide sufficient incentive for uptake of sustainable biofuels. (p. 31)

  1. Lock-ins


In 2017, the European Parliament (EP), has similarly called on the European Commission to review the EU’s current approach to aviation connectivity, stressing that the connectivity should be aimed at joining remote and disadvantages region of the EU and that it is essential that this is done in conjunction with more sustainable alternative, including cross-border, overnight trains. (p. 45)

5.2.4 Environmentally harmful subsidies


For the aviation and maritime sectors, the tax exemptions for fuels are identified as key subsidies. However, when compared with railway transport, these exemptions have to be put into perspective, with massive subsidies granted for the latter [regional trains].

Research by Germany’s Environment Agency (Köder et al., 2014) found that the transport sector receives a greater amount of subsidies than other sectors, and this was identified as being mainly due to aviation subsidies. The impact in terms of loss of potential revenue can be significant. Analysis undertaken for Germany suggests that, for domestic flights alone, the tax exemption of fuel resulted in a tax shortfall of EUR 680 million in 2010. Taking into account international flights through analysis of the tax exemption of fuel used for foreign travel results in a subsidy of EUR 6,91 billion.

The European Parliament (2017) has emphasized that fuel taxation must be introduced for the aviation sector, highlighting that this sector is far from internalizing its external costs. The need for interim action is also highlighted, for example the role of the removal of VAT exemption on international air passenger tickets. The particular fiscal system of air transport, which has no fuel taxes and where VAT is applied only in a minority of European countries, is identified as a barrier to model shift to rail. However, an economic concern is, for example, that the European aviation sector is under very high competition pressure from carriers from the Middle East and Turkey. Isolated European action could lead to adverse effects on the European aviation industry, if not carried out in a concerted way. (p. 48)

5.3.2 Social responsibility


NGOs may play a particular role in driving forward sustainability from the social responsibility consumers. (p. 49)

5.3.3 Regulatory measures


Regulation can provide a strong impetus for change. For instance, the introduction of marine fuel Sulphur limits (maximum Sulphur content of fuels reduced from 1,0% to 0,1%) in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea has resulted in air quality improvements, which reductions of ambient Sulphur concentrations of 50% and more having been reported (CE Delft, 2016b). (p. 49)

  1. Concluding remarks


In terms of the ‘avoid’ aspect, increased understanding of the cultural and behavioral shifts necessary to reduce demand for travel and goods is required, for example to address the attitude-action gap whereby environmental awareness does not translate into reductions in flight demand. (p. 54)

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