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Congestion charges found to promote sustainable choices

Congestion charges and CO2 taxation of cars are the most effective instruments in steering households towards sustainable consumption, a Swedish study has found.

Congestion charges introduced in Sweden's second largest city Gothenburg reduced the amount of car traffic by 10% and the level of NO2 particles by 2-10%, a report for the Swedish environment agency said on Wednesday. It also contributed to a 24% increase in the use of public transport.

Differentiated CO2 taxes on vehicles had the largest impact on consumer behaviour when a higher purchase tax on new car models with CO2 emissions above a certain limit was combined with subsidies for car models below the limit as implemented in France, researchers at the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL) said.

But the linear model of annual car taxation in both Germany and Sweden has also made a significant impact on purchases, they added.

The report evaluated 32 policy instruments implemented in Sweden with the aim to change consumer behaviour towards more resource efficiency and sustainability.

Subsidies to improve the environmental performance of buildings, such as energy-saving measures, have been less effective in changing consumption patterns, the report argued. The same applies to green food labelling, which increased green choices for some product groups by 5-10% with little impact on others, it said.

Informative policy instruments such as labels have a “limited impact where such measures require relatively large sacrifices or costs of the consumer”, said Magnus Hennlock of IVL. But they can reinforce the effect of regulations and other instruments, he added.

Meanwhile the city of London is planning to introduce similar measures in order to reduce emissions.

Issue 41