The automobile is one of the main components of the unsustainable “Western” lifestyle. It has structured the urban planning of our cities, and is responsible for 12 to 28% of the total environmental impacts of human activities (depending on the nature of the impact: climate change, eutrophication, acidification…) in a developed area such as the European Union1. As such, automobile manufacturing and use is consistently among the top 3 sources of environmental impact (whatever the nature of the impact), together with food and housing. This means that the reduction in Greenhouse Gases Emissions by 80 to 95% compared to 1990 levels in the EU that we are collectively committed to in order to remain under the 2°C limit in global warming is only possible by achieving a very sharp decline in the automotive usage – and production.
On the other hand, passenger cars account for 83.4% of all of inland passenger transport in the EU-28 in 2014, expressed in passenger-km2. Similarly, the automotive industry employs 12 M people in the EU, and represents 4% of the region’s GDP3. When compared to manufacturing alone, the automotive sector represents 8.5% of the value added of manufacturing in the EU, and 6.5% of manufacturing jobs, with some Member States where this share is much higher, e.g. 15% of industrial value added in Germany, or 14% in the Czech Republic and 12.5% in Slovakia. The industry is actually even more geographically concentrated, with some regions, such as that of Braunschweig or Stuttgart in Germany, where it accounts for 13 and 11% of all jobs respectively (not only those in manufacturing), or that of Stredni Cechy around Prague (8% of all employment)4.
This decline in the automotive usage and production is thus both very important to reach essential sustainability goals – and extremely difficult to achieve, both socially and economically. It is thus necessary to anticipate, to organise and to manage this decline in an orderly and just way, in order to take into account (1) the needs of climate and other environmental sustainability goals, (2) the mobility needs of current car users, and (3) the economic and social needs of the workers in this industry – and of the regional communities where they are concentrated.
This is the way I see the issue – and I consider it as really important.
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1European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2006, “Environmental Impact of Products (EIPRO)”, accessible at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ipp/pdf/eipro_report.pdf
4AlphaMetrics – Groupe Alpha, 2008 “Employment, Skills and occupational trends in the automotive industry”, http://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=3049&langId=en