Transport greenhouse gas emissions

Briefing Published 30 Nov 2017 Last modified 19 Sep 2018
8 min read
Transport greenhouse gas emissions

Indicator

EU indicator past  trend

Selected objective to be met by 2020

Indicative outlook of the EU meeting the selected objective by 2020

Greenhouse gas emissions from transport

Red triangle: deteriorating trend

Reduce the overall environmental impact of production and consumption in the mobility sector - 7th EAP

Stable or unclear trend

Past transport greenhouse gas emissions increased from 1990 to 2015 despite a decline between 2008 and 2013 following the economic recession. It is uncertain if emissions will reduce during the Seventh Environment Action Programme period (2014 - 2020); emissions in 2014 and 2015 as well as preliminary estimated emissions in 2016 increased while, according to projections by the EU Member States emissions are foreseen to decrease slightly between 2015 and 2020.

For further information on the scoreboard methodology please see Box I.3 in the EEA Environmental indicator report 2017


The Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) includes the objective of reducing the environmental impact of mobility (i.e. transport). Transport is the cause of significant environmental pressures including greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity fragmentation, air pollution and noise. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are used here as a proxy indicator for the overall environmental impacts of the transport sector. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 1990 in line with trends in economic growth and transport demand. Improvements in vehicle efficiency have nevertheless helped to limit the overall increase. It is uncertain if emissions will decline during the implementation period of the 7th EAP (2014-2020). EU transport emissions increased in 2014 and 2015 and preliminary estimates show increases also in 2016, even though the aggregate EU Member State greenhouse gas emission projections point to a slight decrease between 2015 and 2020.

Setting the scene

The 7th EAP calls for a reduction in the environmental impact of mobility (EU, 2013). The transport sector is a major contributor to climate change, air pollution, noise, natural resource depletion and land fragmentation. Reducing the environmental impact of transport can be addressed by reducing the demand for travel, introducing new, cleaner technologies and shifting towards less environmentally damaging transport modes. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector have been used in this briefing as a proxy indicator for the overall environmental impacts of the transport sector. These emissions reflect the level and efficiency of the sector’s activity as well as the mix of transport modes. In addition, climate change (and therefore greenhouse gas emissions) is one of the most significant environmental issues and transport contributes about one quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Policy targets and progress

In 2011, the European Commission published a White Paper on transport entitled Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area — Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system (EC, 2011). It acts as a framework to guide future policy developments in the transport sector over the next decade. The White Paper sets out 10 goals for a competitive and resource-efficient transport system, serving as benchmarks for achieving the target of a 60 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the EU transport sector by 2050 (from 1990 levels).

From 1990 to 2015, EU greenhouse gas emissions from transport - reported by the Member States - increased by 23.1 % compared with 1990 levels (see Figure 1). This increase comes despite past improvements in the efficiency of transport and is broadly in line with increases in the level of economic activity as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) as well as increases in demand for transport (both freight and passenger) (EEA, 2017a, 2017b).

Emissions decreased from 2008 to 2013, mainly because of the lower levels of economic activity — manifesting also in lower levels of freight transport (EEA, 2017b) — following the 2008 economic recession, as well as further implementation of transport efficiency measures.

Road transport accounts for 72 % of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the sector (EEA, 2017c). On-going energy efficiency improvements in road transport has played a key role in limiting the increase of road transport emissions. Such improvements were brought about in part by means of increasingly stringent technical standards, including the average CO2 emission standards for new passenger cars (EU, 2009) and vans (EU, 2011). The increased use of less carbon-intensive fuels, such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and biofuel blends, has also led to lower road transport emissions (EEA, 2015).

Figure 1. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport, EU

It is uncertain if transport greenhouse gas emissions will decline during the implementation period of the 7th EAP (2014 - 2020). According to official projections by the EU Member States, emissions for the EU (including international aviation but excluding international shipping) will decrease slightly between 2015 and 2020 in the two scenarios used: with existing measures and with additional measures (EEA, 2017d). Despite these forecasts, Member States have reported increased greenhouse gas emissions from transport (including from international aviation but excluding international shipping) in 2014 and 2015 (1 % and 1.9 % respectively) (see also Figure 2), and preliminary estimates made by EEA for the year 2016 also show emissions continued to further increase, by 2 % between 2015 and 2016 (EEA, 2017e).


Country level information 

Figure 2. Change in greenhouse gas emissions from transport, 1990 to 2015, by country

Note:
Greenhouse gas emissions show total emissions from transport including from international aviation and excluding from international shipping.

Outlook beyond 2020

The 10 goals set by the European Commission White Paper on Transport (EC, 2011) are expected to lead to the future introduction of new EU policies to increase the efficiency of Europe’s transport sector. The main target of the White Paper is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 % compared to 1990 levels by 2050. A key assumption in the White Paper is that technologies that contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions, such as the electrification of road transport and development of sustainable fuels, will be increasingly available, especially after 2030. More recently the European Commission has also published a 'European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility' (EC, 2016a) that identifies three priority areas for action:

  1. [Further] increasing the efficiency of the transport system; 
  2. Speeding up the deployment of low-emission alternative energy for transport; and
  3. Moving towards zero-emission vehicles.


A modal shift away from road transport is a key element of the EU’s decarbonisation ambitions. The White Paper explicitly states the ambition to shift 30 % of road transport for distances over 300 km to rail and waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50 % by 2050.

Nevertheless, total transport demand is predicted to continue growing during the 2020–2030 period in line with the 2010–2020 patterns (1 % a year for passenger transport (passenger km) and 1.5 % for freight transport (tonne km)) and at lower rates between 2030 and 2050 (0.7 % a year for passenger transport and 0.8 % for freight transport) (EC, 2016b).

Integrated measures addressing both production and consumption would therefore be needed in the long run in order to, inter alia, contain the expected increase in transport demand and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 60 % by 2050.


About the indicator

This indicator presents the total EU greenhouse gas emissions from transport including emissions from international aviation but excluding emissions from international maritime transport. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport activities include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The individual gases were converted into greenhouse gas emissions by being weighted according to their global warming potentials following the relevant guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For further information on the indicator and on the method used, please see the indicator specification of the EEA indicator TERM (Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism) 002 (EEA, 2017f).

The indicator does not include greenhouse gas emissions from the construction of transport-related infrastructure or from the production of transport vehicles within and outside the EU.

Footnotes and references

EC, 2011, White Paper ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area — Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (COM(2011) 144 final) (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2011:0144:FIN:en:PDF) accessed 17 May 2017.

EC, 2016a, 'A European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility' COM(2016) 501 final, European Commission (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:e44d3c21-531e-11e6-89bd-01aa75ed71a1.0002.02/DOC_1&format=PDF), accessed 17 October 2017.

EC, 2016b, EU Reference Scenario 2016: Energy, transport and GHG emissions, Trends to 2050, European Commission (https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/ref2016_report_final-web.pdf) accessed 17 May 2017.

EEA, 2015, Evaluating 15 years of transport and environmental policy integration — TERM 2015: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe, EEA Report No 7/2015 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/term-report-2015) accessed 17 May 2017.

EEA, 2017a, ‘Passenger transport demand (CSI 035/TERM 012)’, European Environment Agency (http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/passenger-transport-demand-version-2/assessment-9) accessed 30 October 2017.

EEA, 2017b, ‘Freight transport demand (CSI 036/TERM 013)’, European Environment Agency (http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/freight-transport-demand-version-2/assessment-7) accessed 30 October 2017.

EEA, 2017c, National emissions reported to the UNFCCC and to the EU Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Mechanism provided by the European Environment Agency, EEA greenhouse gas — data viewer, European Environment Agency (http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/data-viewers/greenhouse-gases-viewer) accessed 17 October  2017.

EEA, 2017d, Trends and projections in Europe 2017 — Tracking progress towards Europe's climate and energy targets, EEA Report No 17/2017, European Environment Agency

EEA, 2017e, Approximated EU greenhouse gas inventory 2016, EEA/PUBL/2017/038, European Environment Agency.

EEA, 2017f, ‘Greenhouse gas emissions from transport (TERM 002)’ (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/transport-emissions-of-greenhouse-gases/transport-emissions-of-greenhouse-gases-10) accessed 19 October 2017.

EU, 2009, Regulation (EC) No 443/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the Community’s integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32009R0443) accessed 17 May 2017.

EU, 2011, Regulation (EU) No 510/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2011 setting emission performance standards for new light commercial vehicles as part of the Union’s integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:145:0001:0018:en:PDF) accessed 17 May 2017.

EU, 2013, Decision No 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’ (OJ L 354, 28.12.2013, p. 171–200) (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2013:354:FULL&from=EL) accessed 17 May 2017.

 

Environmental indicator report 2017 – In support to the monitoring of the 7th Environment Action Programme, EEA report No21/2017, European Environment Agency

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