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close this bookEco-restructuring: Implications for Sustainable Development (UNU, 1998, 417 p.)
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(introduction...)
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


The transport sector is a major contributor to environmental change. Apart from the land-take and materials-use implications of building transport infrastructures and machinery, which are considerable, environmental stress is imposed by the pollution implications of transport energy use. Part of the eco-restructuring agenda must therefore be to reduce the environmental disturbance caused per unit of transport, which is mostly a function of the characteristics of different transport modes and of modal splits, and to reduce the volume of transport.

The issues involved are complex partly because of the systemic interlinkages between production and consumption patterns, the characteristics of transportation technologies, the characteristics of other technologies that can substitute for physical transportation, and the prevailing incentive structures that give rise to patterns of land use and technological, logistical, and transportation choices. Geographical differences between countries in size, shape, topography, resource endowment, state of development, and socio-economic conditions also complicate analysis. So do differences in the structure of different firms and industries and the locations of different types of manufacturing activities. Above all, the key factors influencing transportation those that affect both the scale and structure of transportation demand and the ways in which these are met - are dynamic. This systemic complexity means that there is need for broad and dynamic analysis of the linkages between transportation and sustainability.

This chapter is necessarily restricted to a partial analysis. None the less, the insights it gives are motivated by what I consider to be of special relevance for transportation policy at the start of an eco-restructuring agenda. It focuses on the already industrialized countries, where transport and related arrangements pose the greatest environmental burden and are most in need of restructuring. It focuses on options and measures to reduce the volume of freight transport in the near to mid term, which are investigated in relation to other possibilities for reducing environmental impacts in the longer term, including major changes in transportation technology, although these are not themselves explored here in any detail. Within the scope that this identifies, the chapter explores those options that provide greatest room and flexibility for effecting near-term change. These include the reorganization of production and logistics arrangements, technological and organizational adaptations within the confines of existing knowledge, mode-switching even within the context of the road freight transport category,1 and physical goods transportation substitution possibilities.

The chapter also look at the dynamics of freight transportation, at the factors affecting developments, and at how these might be influenced. Because much of the scope for reducing freight volumes hinges on changing the nature of existing relationships and trends between freight transport, logistics (the ways in which companies organize the movement and storage of goods in the supply chain to consumers), and patterns of industrial and economic space use, the chapter looks at these together. Patterns of land use and freight transport in Western industrialized societies have co-evolved under market conditions where natural resource productivity has never been a priority, where road-building has been publicly financed, and where levels of (demand-led) road provision have been economically and environmentally excessive. Under these conditions, current (profit-maximizing) land-use and transport patterns represent an excessive use of transport. Although there is no necessary link between market liberalization and transport volumes, deregulation and shifts toward free trade have contributed to an internationalization - in some cases a globalization - of economic activities, which, in practice, has added significantly to freight tonne-kilometers. For this reason, developments affecting international trade and/or the relationship between internationalized economic activities and freight transport volumes are of interest because they may help or hinder progress toward eco-restructuring.

The choices made over the substance and coverage of the chapter in respect to the wider debate on transport and sustainability are due to my view of the importance of the transportation sector generally as regards policies and measures to usher in a restructuring of our economies and societies. Certainly, it is conceivable that much of the concern over the sustainability of current transport arrangements would be reduced were a competitively priced transportation technology based upon a renewable energy source to become available; for example, a technology based upon the solar-derived, hydrogen based carriers that earlier chapters in this book suggest may ultimately be feasible. However, such technologies are unlikely to become available within the next 50 years. More importantly, their development will come about only in the context of appropriate incentives. In the near term, then, reducing the environmental impact of transport will depend mostly upon reducing transport volumes and increasing transport efficiency; i.e. cutting out or substituting for transport that can be avoided, undertaking remaining movement so that this does least environmental damage, and making most productive use of this remaining movement. This suggests that the preference should be for policy instruments that will stimulate these changes and simultaneously provide incentives for the longer-term development of fundamentally more sustainable transportation technologies. A lead taken along these lines within the industrialized countries would also signal an important message for caution over the extent of public road provision to countries now rapidly building their transportation infrastructures.