27 Apr 2017

Nordics seek greener road freight

Transport is an area of particular concern for the Nordic countries when it comes to reaching the targets for carbon emission reductions by 2030. While urban traffic is rapidly decarbonising, freight remains the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the transport sector. The countries are to align rules for the transport sector in order to speed up “greening” the road freight.

Almost a quarter of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions come from the transport sector, which is also the main cause of air pollution in cities. While other sectors have seen a gradual decline in emissions, transport remains the only major sector in the EU where emissions are still on the rise, with road transport being the biggest culprit by far.

In July 2016, the European Commission adopted new 2030 emission reduction targets for member countries. The transport sector is specifically singled out as an area where reductions are required.

“While there is a clear trend towards electrifying passenger transport, road freight transport is still lacking these solutions. This makes road freight an important area for emission reduction”, says Dr Maria Huge Brodin, Professor of Environmental Logistics Management at Linköping University.

Bio-fuels or the most recent “greener” fuels that have appeared on the market may not always be an effective remedy. Long lead times before the necessary investments makes adoption slow for new fuel technologies. Furthermore, bio-fuels are limited in supply.

Dr Maria Huge-Brodin

“Binding emission reduction targets would possibly trigger legislators and politicians to give stronger incentives for the development and further use of greener alternatives.”

Dr Maria Huge-Brodin

Dr Huge-Brodin is the world's first Professor of Environmental Logistics Management and heads the research group for Sustainable Logistics at Linköping University.


Cutting transport emissions is crucial if the Nordic countries are to reach their emissions reduction targets for 2030. The goal is to increase the use of renewable fuels and improve the energy efficiency of the transport system. However, in addition to the challenge posed by the sparse population and vast size of most Nordic countries, the transport sector appears to act slowly when it comes to “greening”. Why?

“One reason is that transport operators are generally slow in adopting new technologies. This is a global problem”, Dr Huge-Brodin explains.

“It often takes a long time for transport operators to identify a more advantageous solution before investing. Another reason is a combination of low margins in the transport and logistics sector and the short-term nature of their contracts with customers. Finally, there is a strong need for adequate and effective legislation that would support a positive development in this area.”

In early March, Anne Berner, Finland’s Minister of Transport and Communications, invited her peers from the other Nordic countries to discuss developments in the transport sector. Lowering transport emissions was the main subject of the discussion, which took place at the refinery of Finland’s leading renewable fuel manufacturer Neste in Porvoo.

“The Nordics would be wise to cooperate in reaching these emissions reduction targets. Common solutions to reduce emissions are also industry and innovation opportunities”, said Berner.

“There are a number of possible benefits to cooperation,” Dr Huge-Brodin agrees. There is research which proves that hauliers in different Nordic countries may have rather different views on what is environmental performance.

“Relating to such various demands and values is a challenge for logistics and transport companies trying to collaborate across national borders.”

“Cooperation among legislative authorities would enable a unified set of rules for transport in a larger area, as well as further cooperation between various logistics service providers and hauliers, which would increase the environmental performance of freight transport.”

The targets proposed by the European Commission for Finland, Sweden and Denmark are reductions of 39–40% from 2005 levels by 2030. Denmark, Sweden and Norway have ambitions of complete carbon neutrality (including transport) by 2050, while Finland targets an 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction and Iceland a 50%–70% reduction in greenhouse gas emission levels (relative to 1990 levels). Oslo and Copenhagen have set even more ambitious goals.

In the Baltics, Estonia has pledged to cut 26%, Lithuania 9% and Latvia 6% by 2030.

According to Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, further studies on possible cooperation measures are planned in 2017.