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The influence of mobility in EU on rubber expansion in tropics

17 June 2021
Researcher Perrine Laroche of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (IVM) and colleagues show that current EU solutions to improve the sustainability of personal mobility, such as electric cars, are insufficient. Instead of technological solutions, tackling car-dependent lifestyles in the EU will help alleviate the pressure on tropical countries, in addition to reducing carbon emissions.

The study was recently published in Ambio. The projected increase in human mobility will have negative effects on tropical ecosystems, as nearly three quarters of global natural rubber production is used for tire production. The study takes stock of the use of natural rubber in the European Union (EU) in order to propose demand-side measures to prevent further expansion of natural rubber plantations.

Car use
A large part of the rubber-producing countries are harvesting to ensure that mobility can continue in the EU. More natural rubber is used for personal mobility than for the transport of goods. Private car use in particular was responsible for about 58 percent of this consumption. Cars are the main vehicle used for personal mobility in the EU, accounting for more than three quarters of the total distance people travel in a year. Car use in the EU is strongly driven by car ownership, which influences mobility patterns, including the average car occupancy rate per trip.

Policy needs
The close link between the car use and economic prosperity suggests that the EU's demand for natural rubber may increase in the near future with the economic development of the eastern Member States. Currently, European transport policy focuses solely on reducing CO2 emissions, missing an opportunity to avoid other environmental impacts of mobility. Replacing the EU's fleet with electric cars will not reduce the demand for natural rubber, as these still run on four wheels. Europeans' preference for car ownership is closely related to lifestyles that respond to urban forms, housing and labor markets and social norms. Overcoming the functional and symbolic aspects of private car use requires policies beyond the transport sector. For example, pricing measures, spatial planning and housing policies can certainly play a role in enabling Europeans to live car-free, with benefits for tropical ecosystems.

Photographer: Devan Darshan