Location-specific measures are needed to reduce emissions from transport
In terms of climate policy goals, achieving emission reductions in the transport sector is in principle simple: combustion engine vehicles must be driven significantly less than at present. In rural areas emissions per household remain large, but total emissions are greatest in urban areas. Different locations require different measures to halve emissions by 2030.
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In rural areas households drive more and emissions per household from car use are greater than in urban locations. In the sparsely populated countryside, car use may be a necessity because public transport is scarce and routes may not be suitable for example for cycling. Most of Finland’s land area is sparsely populated and rural.
Emissions per household among car-owning households are on average the highest in rural areas and peri-urban areas. In these locations, owning more than one car is also common and the share of car-owning households is high. As a result, emissions per household in these areas are 2.5 times higher than emissions in inner urban areas, when all households are considered. 1)
However, because rural areas are much less populated than urban areas, in total less than half of emissions from passenger vehicles originate in rural locations. From the point of view of emission reductions this means that currently most emissions are produced in urban areas where replacing passenger vehicles is easier.
In densely populated urban areas, it is efficient to replace cars with public transport, cycling and walking. Reducing vehicle kilometres travelled will produce emission reductions faster than relying solely on the ongoing electrification of the vehicle fleet. Replacing cars, especially with cycling and walking, also brings additional benefits in the form of less congestion, accidents, and local air pollution.
Reducing car use is challenging in areas where other modes of transport are not available. In rural areas, emission reductions can be achieved by replacing combustion engines with alternative motive powers. However, the turnover of the car fleet is slow. Meeting the target of halving transport emissions by 2030 will most likely also require reductions in the number of kilometres driven.
1) The location classification is based on The Finnish Environment Institute’s urban-rural classification. Details on the calculations and the underlying data can be found in Palanne & Sahari 2021, VATT Memo 63.
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