Cover Image
close this bookEco-restructuring: Implications for sustainable development (UNU, 1998, 417 pages)
close this folderPart II: Restructuring sectors and the sectoral balance of the economy
close this folder11. The restructuring of transport, logistics, trade, and industrial space use
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe significance of freight transport
View the documentPast growth and patterns of freight transport development
View the documentSpatial and transport outcomes
View the documentFuture developments affecting freight volumes and patterns
View the documentThe scope for reducing freight volumes
View the documentTaking up the potential
View the documentConclusion
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences


Although it is not possible to specify in abstract which patterns of land use, trade, logistics, and transport would offer greatest scope for reducing environmental stresses, shifts toward sustainable societies and economies would most likely involve:

- less physical movement,

- less emphasis on physical transportation infrastructures,

- substitution of information and capital flows for physical goods movement,

- greater mixing of land uses,

- less specialization and concentration in production,

- smaller-scale installations and use of flexible technologies to emphasize economies of scope over economies of scale,

- decentralization of production,

- greater reliance on local resources,

- greater serving of local markets,

- new networking arrangements among contractors/subcontractors,

- more sensitivity in matching activities and locations so as not to overreach local environmental capacities.

The flexibility for spatial and sectoral shifting - even within the framework set by the inertia of sunk costs and market contestability is considerable. However, the signs are not positive that these opportunities will automatically be taken up. Finding geographical and logistics arrangements that are less resource intensive and defining the market conditions under which these would be consistent with profit maximization is therefore a central concern for eco-restructuring. In this regard, spatial indicators could be important diagnostics in eco-restructuring processes. A reconfiguration of the market framework is necessary to provide the incentive/disincentive structure for change. Although it may not be politically possible in the short term to internalize all currently externalized social and environmental costs into environmental resource prices, it is important to begin that process soon and to target some sectors for early action. A combination of gradually increasing motorway tolls and fuel taxes, together with specific regulatory actions targeted at trucks and aimed at securing speed, loading, and environmental performance standards, would constitute an important start.

International agreement on a harmonized resource taxation system is unlikely. This implies that a way must be found to reconcile the need for individual countries or blocs to act independently to tax resource use without jeopardizing the competitiveness of their own industry in either domestic markets (vis-à-vis imports) or in export markets (vis-à-vis competing exporters). Maintaining a level playing field for international competition depends upon taxing imports on entry on the basis of their resource intensity and exempting exports from resource taxes using rebates, again based upon resource intensity. Such a solution would allow independent, incremental action by the lead countries. None the less, this would still depend first upon reforming the GATT agreement (Weaver 1995).

Because of interlinkages between freight transport and all other economic activities, actions targeted at freight transport (and at truck transport specifically) would have important knock-on effects. Together with the energy sector, transport is privileged in this respect. Against the backdrop of industrialized countries' obligations under the Framework Convention on Climate Change and responsibility to take the lead in eco-restructuring, the fact that transport energy use is increasing faster within these countries than within the developing world is salutary. It is indicative that this is a lifestyle issue - a reflection of conspicuous over-consumption in the context of distorted incentives. This makes it all the more important for policy to focus on freight transport. It is a critical and potential swing sector in eco-restructuring.


I am grateful to Gilberto Gallopín, Walther Manshard, Ray Hudson, and Michael Taylor for editorial comments on an earlier draft. Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek alerted me to relevant work at the Wuppertal Institute and Eric Britton to relevant work of EcoPlan International. Landis Gabel provided helpful information on deregulation, market liberalization, and freight transport. Thanks are due also to two anonymous reviewers whose suggestions for improvement were most helpful.