Environmentally harmful subsidies in transport sector at record level

German Environment Agency calls for dismantling by 2025

exhaust pipe of a car emitting exhaust gasesClick to enlarge
Environmentally harmful subsidies in the transport sector amount to 28 billion euros (2012)
Source: Stefan Redel / Fotolia

The German Environment Agency (UBA) is calling for a much quicker dismantling of environmentally harmful subsidies. "The state provides 50 billion euros of funding every year for measures some of which are doing great harm to the environment. Environmentally harmful subsidies in the transport sector have been the main culprits for years. Those subsidies amounted to 28 billion euros in 2012, and it is preventing investments in clean technologies", said UBA's President Maria Krautzberger. "All environmentally harmful subsidies must be scrutinized and phased out by 2025 if possible. The financial resources which would then become available could be used to invest in climate protection and to make mobility viable for the future", said Ms Krautzberger at the presentation of her Agency's annual publication Schwerpunkte 2016 in Berlin.

One of the results of environmentally harmful subsidies is the air pollution caused by diesel-run vehicles in inner cities. Diesel vehicles run on fuel which costs 18.4 cents per litre less than petrol cars and therefore this makes them quite popular. This form of subsidisation now costs the state 7.8 billion euros per year, of which passenger vehicles account for some 3.5 billion euros. Even if the higher vehicle tax on diesel cars is subtracted, the state still provides about one and a half billion euros per year for diesel cars. In comparison, funding for electric mobility is just under one billion, but only until 2020. Ms Krautzberger said: "Even the cleanest and most modern diesel car will still have six times the nitrogen oxide emissions of a modern petrol-run car. Instead of investing enormous sums into outdated diesel technology, we must focus funding more strongly on modern mobility: in the promotion of cycling and pedestrian traffic, in zero emissions cars, and in buses and trains." Funds could also be allocated to the expansion of the as yet poor infrastructure for electric mobility.

Many subsidies which harm the environment are also socially unjust. For example, there is the privileged status of company cars, subsidised by the state with about three billion euros per year. Official cars are a benefit only to those in high-income brackets. UBA proposes a sweeping management control of all subsidies and a review of their environmental impact. This approach should also apply to any future new subsidies.

UBA also supports more efforts in environmental protection in textile manufacturing. 90 per cent of the clothing sold in Germany is made outside of Europe. The environmental damage of textiles production is enormous and working conditions are a disaster. The amount of chemicals used to make one kilo of clothing is sometimes 1:1. Some of the chemicals are known to be endocrine disruptors or toxic to the reproductive system, for example nonylphenol polyethoxylate (NPE), which is sometimes used for dyeing. Its use is banned in the EU because it has been proved to be reprotoxic in fish. However, it is still used in textile manufacturing abroad. The German Textile Auxiliaries Catalogue lists up to 600 chemical substances. An evaluation of their impact on man and the environment in accordance with REACH is still outstanding for many of them.

Better manufacturing conditions abroad would benefit the local people in particular, but German consumers would also profit from better protection. "Many of the chemicals in use are unusually persistent and are spreading all over the globe", said Ms Krautzberger. The most well-known of them are perfluorocarbons (PFC), which have been traced in bodies of water and fish worldwide and even the liver of polar bears. Some PFC are known to be carcinogenic; others can affect fertility.

UBA pursues a dual strategy with regard to textiles, consisting of cooperation in technology and more stringent, international standards. Says Ms Krautzberger: "In Gujarat, India we are working hard to promote the improvement of local environmental standards – and we are succeeding. We aim to continue on this path, but this alone is not enough. We need an international agreement on standards in textile manufacturing." It is the only way consumers can be sure there is no poison in their wardrobes.

Click here for the UBA annual publication Schwerpunkte 2016 (in German, English-language version in progress).

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