On the other hand, the inherent cost economical and environmental of developing an efficient transport infrastructure should also be taken into account. Some geographically smaller countries like the Netherlands, Belgium or Switzerland own modern and high-quality railway networks. However, larger countries, such as Russia, may not be able to build and maintain such a dense and expensive grid throughout its territory. In such cases, the choice between the different means of transport is not so clear.
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Apart from technological solutions, there are approaches to lower the demand for emission-intensive transportation. As an example, a Swiss retailer removed fresh green asparagus from overseas from its shelves, which contributed approximately a fold higher climate impact than locally sourced asparagus. Cargo bicycles for last-mile deliveries are becoming popular in Germany, where 21, electrically assisted cargo bicycles were sold in Additionally, much effort is being put into the development of delivery bots, which may reduce environmental impact.
However, there may be challenges surrounding safety and noise emissions if the amount of flying taxis increases rapidly.
During the largest interdisciplinary science meeting in Europe, the Euroscience Open Forum ESOF in Toulouse, France this year, we organised a session on the environmental impact of transportation in Europe. In this session, leaders from industry and academia were brought together. We were joined by Prof. Opinions were divided.
Some of the speakers noted that technology has created the present system of transportation with all its benefits, but also with all its environmental impacts. So they questioned how technology—being the origin of the environmental problems of transportation—can be seen as the future solution? Certainly, we cannot rely on technology alone as the solution.
Technology can provide new opportunities, for example, more comfortable, faster, safer, and cheaper ways of transportation. These opportunities create new demands, which in turn might increase the volume of mobility and therefore its environmental impact. Presently, demand and transportation prices are the main drivers deciding which technologies will penetrate the market and to which degree they will be used. Environmental regulations and standards set boundaries, mainly on a national level, but are still far away from guaranteeing sustainable modes of transportation. Nevertheless, some of the speakers believed that technology has to—and will—play the most important role in the change while providing attractive, clean modes of transportation.
Others believed that we need to focus on encouraging people to use less contaminating means of transportation, while changing the economical-status stereotypes related to the need of owning a car. The economic incentives alone, in the panels view, will not eliminate polluting technologies.
People need to be more conscious about the environmental impacts of different options of transportation, and consider environmental aspects in their choice. However, this is a long process.
China’s sustainable urban transport revolution
To effect lasting change, extensive social discourse is needed. Similar to the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , researchers and stakeholders from all countries and all related disciplines need to contribute to consensus building and in the communication of findings to society and politics. Natural sciences need to analyse the present system and its environmental impacts, while engineers need to provide clean technical solutions.
Legal, economic and social sciences need to contribute effective ways of implementation. This can be the basis for constructive and unbureaucratic regulations and incentives for a sustainable, future transport system. Despite the different points of view, all speakers at the ESOF session agreed that the level of accessibility is more important than the level of mobility, meaning that city and regional planning is fundamental.
If workplaces, homes, shopping centers, and leisure opportunities are organised in a more decentralised and less car-focused way, higher accessibility can be reached without increasing transport distances.
In the end, the main purpose of travelling is rarely travelling in itself, but to get access to other places, for work, leisure or services, for example. Although, we must accept that people will—and should—travel in the future because they also like to travel and explore new places.
One thing was clear from the conversation: there is a need to rethink how or even question whether we should get from point A to point B, and we need to start acting now. External costs of transportation need to be integrated into their price, especially in the case of fossil fuels. Improving infrastructure for pedestrians and bikes users must remain a high urban planning priority, where urban planning should aim to provide maximal accessibility with minimal transport distances.
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