According to new research, 13 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with French household consumption is from transporting household goods. Most of this (10 per cent of all emissions) comes from the transport of goods outside or into France.
EU climate policy tends to focus on decoupling economic growth from GHG emissions, which requires a good understanding of the causes of GHG emissions and their relationship to national economies. In France the relationship between GHG emissions and the economy is somewhat untypical as the majority of electricity is sourced from nuclear fuel. Therefore transportation emissions play a larger role than they might in other countries.
The study, supported by the EU EXIOPOL project1, estimated the GHG emissions associated with freight transport of goods required for French household consumption. It is the first study to combine an input-output model that estimates emissions caused during production of goods with a model of transport activities.
The total emissions associated with household consumption in 2004 were 627 megatonnes of CO2, which amounts to 11 tonnes of CO2 per capita. 60 per cent of this is related to production and 13 per cent to transportation of goods, or 1.3 tonnes of CO2 per capita. Of the remainder, 16 per cent is associated with household direct emissions and 11 per cent from passenger transport. CO2 emissions from transportation were greater than CO2 emissions from production for three sectors: motor vehicles, capital goods (factories, machinery etc. used to make products) and coal, coke and nuclear fuels.
Within France, the average distance travelled by goods is between 60 and 180 km, which appears to be relatively short. International transportation produces a sixth of the amount of CO2 per tonne per kilometre compared with domestic transport, which could be because international transport is more fuel-efficient.
Altogether road transport accounts for 70 per cent of total emissions related to freight transport, while sea and ocean accounts for 11 per cent despite accounting for the greatest distance travelled. Road transport accounts for shorter journeys, but has an emissions factor 40 times greater than sea and ocean travel. 98 per cent of GHG emissions from domestic transport within France comes from road. Transport from Northern Europe also tends to be by road, while transport from other parts of the world tends to be by ship. Air transport accounts for only 0.2 per cent of weight of goods, but contributes 3 per cent to overall transportation emissions.
The study also examined possible ways to reduce emissions associated with the transport of household goods. A key approach would be to simply reduce consumption levels, but decision makers could also consider which forms of transport to prioritise. For example, shifting 10 per cent of direct imports by air transport to sea and ocean would reduce transport emissions by 0.22 per cent. This minimal impact indicates that efforts using this approach should not consume too much time or expense.
By shifting 10 per cent of direct imports by road to rail or inland water transport, it is estimated that France could reduce transport emissions by 3.6 or 3.3 per cent respectively. However, this would mean improving the infrastructure and capacity of either rail or inland water systems. Over half of the road transport emissions savings would be from transport from Northern European countries, so there is scope for broader European policy to address this issue.
1. EXIOPOL was supported by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme. See: www.feem-project.net
Source: Hawkins, T.R. & Dente, S.M.R. (2010). Greenhouse Gas Emissions Driven by the Transportation of Goods Associated with French Consumption. Environmental Science & Technology. 44: 8656-8664.