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Politics must act

09 December 2019

For a long time there has been a political will to move freight transport to shipping. But according to a new study no major changes have taken place. It’s time to go from words to action, Linda Styhre, a researcher at IVL says.

In November, a report which examines obstacles and opportunities to increase the proportion of shipping in the Swedish transport chain was published by IVL.

“It doesn't look too cheerful when you look at the development. For road and rail, energy efficiency has remained constant at the same figures for the past 10 years and emissions from heavy trucks even increased last year. If we are to achieve our environmental and climate goals more action is needed”, Linda Styhre, the project leader of the study, says.

There is a national freight transport strategy and there’s a lot of talk about the benefits of shipping . So why doesn't it work? Why don’t more freight run on water? The study has taken a closer look at the role of transport buyers – a group the researchers believe are important in this context, but of course, they alone cannot be held responsible for that the transfer is not taking place.

“Everyone has a responsibility, but it is still the politicians who set the playing field and I think they have been far too cautious. There are clear environmental and climate goals, and there is a consensus among the political parties that we must achieve these, but at the same time, there are not sufficient conditions for us to reach them. One reason for that is that the politicians does not want to make it difficult for the Swedish manufacturing industry. So, there is a conflict of goals”.

If the goals are to be achieved, we cannot rely on market forces. Sure, there is a little increased interest in environmental issues and shipping, but things are going too slowly, Linda Styhre says..

“The playing field has to be changed, it must be cost-effective to choose an environmentally friendly alternative.”

Thus, new instruments must be created by politicians, all other actors cannot just sit and wait for things happen - everyone has a responsibility.

- A lot more shipping companies, I think, can engage themselves in environmental issue. It is important that the shipping industry understands that now is the moment to do that if one is not going to be outrun by road transport.

The transport buyers then? Of course, they also have a central role and a great responsibility. But the study shows that lifting goods from road to sea it is not a prioritized issue among them. They also believe that it i more difficult to buy maritime transport and that several factors beyond their own control constitute obstacles. In many cases, for example, it is faster and more flexible to transport by truck.

Interestingly, the transport buyers in Sweden are relatively few.
“It is about a thousand people who are responsible for deciding on transport purchases in large and medium-sized companies. The can be seen as key persons, and if you can reach them, I think a lot has been won”

“I understand that there’s a lot of pressure and that many transport buyers do not have the power to make these decisions. Companies are often very top-controlled. So it’s important that to take a position on the transport issue as a company. Not many have done it yet.

But some have it. And these are the ones that are seen and heard in the industry, which can easily make one blind to flaws at home.

“When we organize seminars and workshops with transport buyers, it is always the committed ones that come. That’s nice, but it does not create a correct image of what’s going on in the industry. When my colleagues and I are talking about the slow development at seminars and workshops, there is always someone who raises their hand and tells how much they work for sustainable transport at their company. And some companies certainly do, but the large mass - the majority - do not, and they are incredibly difficult to reach. I think financial benefits are needed for that.”

But if nothing happens, if we continue like today, is there anything that indicates that the transfer of transports from land to sea could increase?

“As I see it, maybe if it’s getting more difficult or more expensive with road transport, for example through driver shortages or increased congestion. Rather, it is those forces of a practical nature and not environmental arguments that can create a transfer.  Environmental reasons do not exist in the industry today”, Linda Styhre says, but then adds some hope:
“Maybe that may change soon”.

Read the report (only in Swedish)

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