Indicator Assessment

Freight transport demand - outlook from WBCSD

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-61-en
  Also known as: Outlook 027
Published 08 Jun 2007 Last modified 11 May 2021
19 min read
This page was archived on 12 Nov 2013 with reason: Content not regularly updated

If present policies and technological trends continue (a), freight transport is projected to continue to grow worldwide. In the Pan-European region the most significant growth is expected in Eastern Europe, while worldwide a more rapid increase is projected in the fast-growing economies of China and India.


Worldwide road transport is expected to grow faster than rail transport. This is expected to lead to substantial shifts of the modal split of freight transport towards less sustainable modes.


a) Projections are based on the reference case scenario. The reference case projects one possible set of future conditions, based on recent trends. Adjustments are made for expected deviations from recent trends due to factors such as existing policies, population projections (UNSTAT), income projections (IEA) and expected availability of new technologies. Expectations of other future changes in trends, such as saturation of vehicle ownership, are also incorporated. In general, no major new policies are assumed to be implemented beyond those already implemented in 2003, and no major technological breakthroughs (

Required information is not filled in: Information about the starting date of the publishing schedule is missing.

Projections of total freight transport activity from 2000 to 2050

Note: N/A

Data source:

WBCSD World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2004. The Sustainable Mobility Project 2030. Available at / D4x4mJCw0t7TFqTwpwtA/WBSCD4pp_English.pdf.

Freight transport modal split in 2000 and projected split in 2050

Note: N/A

Data source:

WBCSD World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2004. The Sustainable Mobility Project 2030. Available at / D4x4mJCw0t7TFqTwpwtA/WBSCD4pp_English.pdf.

Projected percentage change in freight transport by mode from 2000 to 2050

Note: N/A

Data source:

WBCSD World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2004. The Sustainable Mobility Project 2030. Available at / D4x4mJCw0t7TFqTwpwtA/WBSCD4pp_English.pdf.

In terms of modal shifts, road is projected to be the fastest-growing freight transport mode in all world regions (ranging from an 824 % increase in China to 109 % in OECD Europe) resulting in a decrease in theshare of rail transport. OECD

-Europe currently has the smallest share of rail in total freight transport and itsshare is expected to drop from 11 % in 2000 to 9.5 % in 2050. In EECCA countries (i.e. the Former Soviet

Union) rail is projected to remain the dominant mode of freight transport; however its share also drops, from 88 % in 2000 to 82 % in 2050. The most significant decrease in the share of rail in freight transport inthe pan-European region is expected to be in Eastern Europe, falling from 63 % in 2000 to 50 % in 2050. Similar trends are expected in other parts of the world.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

Definition: Generally the indicator 'emissions of ozone precursors'  tracks trends in anthropogenic emissions of ozone precursors: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, methane and non methane volatile organic compounds, each weighted by their tropospheric ozone-forming potential. The outlook form IEA/SMP model provides information only for nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide in transport sector.

Model used: IEA/SMP

Ownership:  World Business Council for Sustainable Development 

Temporal coverage: 1990 - 2050

Geographical coverage: OECD Europe: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom; OECD North America: USA, Canada, Mexico; Former Soviet Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan; Eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro; India; China


The volume of the fright transport is measured in the tonne-kilometre (tkm) traveled, which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre.

GDP unit is billion US dollars.


Policy context and targets

Context description

Pan-European policy context

The large number of non binding policy instruments have been developed under fora such as Environment for Europe process, the European Council of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) and the UNECE/WTO Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (The PEP). The PEP was set up to address the key challenges to achieve more sustainable transport patterns and a closer integration of environmental and health concerns into transport policies.

EU policy context

The EU has set itself the objective to reduce the link between economic growth and freight transport demand ('decoupling') in order to achieve more sustainable transport.

Reducing the link between transport growth and GDP is a central theme in EU transport policy for reducing the negative impacts from transport: 

  •  The objective of decoupling freight transport demand from GDP was first mentioned in the Transport & Environment (T&E) integration strategy that was adopted by the Council of ministers in Helsinki. Here, the expected growth in transport demand was named as an area where urgent action was needed. In the sustainable development strategy that was adopted by the European Council in Gothenburg, the objective of decoupling is set in order to reduce congestion and other negative side-effects of transport.
  • In the review of the T&E integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council reaffirmed the objective of reducing the link between the growth of transport and GDP.
  • In the Sixth Community Environmental Action Programme, decoupling of economic growth and transport demand is named as one of the key objectives in order to deal with climate change and to alleviate health impacts from transport in urban areas.

Shifting freight from road to water and rail is an important strategic element in the EU transport policy. The objective was first formulated in the Sustainable Development Strategy ("SDS"). In the review of the T&E integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council states that the modal split should remain stable for at least the next ten years, even with further traffic growth.  In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy (CTP) "European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide", the Commission proposes a number of measures aimed at the modal shift.

The White Paper on the Common Transport Policy also says that common transport policy alone will not provide all the answers. It must be part of an overall strategy integrating sustainable development, to include: a) economic policy and changes in the production process that influence demand for transport; b) land-use planning policy and in particular town planning; c) social and education policy;  d) urban transport policy; e) budgetary and fiscal policy to, to link the internalisation of external, and especial environmental, costs with competition of trans-European network; f) competition policy, to ensure, in line with the objectives of high-quality public services, and in particularly in rail sector, that the opening-up of market is not harmed by the dominant  companies already present on market; g) research policy for transport in Europe.

Motorways of the sea are alternative routes which could relieve bottlenecks on land. The member States are jointly invited to establish transnational maritime links. (TEN)

The European Neighborhood Policy stressed t
hat generating more trade and tourism between the Union and its neighbours, requires efficient, multimodal and sustainable transport systems. EU should develop an Actions plan for cooperation with its neighbors to improve the physical transport networks connecting the Union with neighboring countries, to step up aviation relations with partner countries with the aim to open up markets and to co-operate on safety and security issues.  The Action Plans will also contain specific provisions to address the vulnerability of transport networks and services vis-A-vis terrorist attacks. The highest attention will be paid to enhance the security of air and maritime transport.

 EECCA policy context

EECCA Environmental Strategy recognizes the need to incorporate environmental concerns into transport policies and sets this action as one of the Strategy objectives.

European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development (A Sustainable Europe for a Better World

WTP: White Paper on the Common Transport Policy (European transport policy for 2010: time to decide)

UNECE/WHO  Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme

SDS:Environmental Partnerships in the UN ECE Region: Environment Strategy for Countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia Strategic Framework. Fifth Ministerial Conference Environment for Europe Kiev, Ukraine. 21-23 May 2003

The European Neighborhood Policy



Structural goals and targets

Implement transport strategies for sustainable development (WSSD)


- ... "develop transport infrastructure further through ... networks, better traffic management  ... and intermodal approach" (ECMT, Council of Ministers, 1997)


- Maintain 35% rail modal share for freight in EU10 by 2015 (2001 White Paper)
- Increase railway  freight share from 8 to 15% by 2020 (2001 White Paper + rail industry)
- A single European railway system (2001 White Paper + rail industry)
- "...a shift in transport use from road to rail, water and public passenger transport .. [so] the share of road transport in 2010 is no greater than in 1998" (EU Sustainable Development Strategy, 2001)


- incentives for sustainable transport (EECCA Strategy)
- modernization of transportation facilities, including use of less energy intensive transport modes  (EECCA Strategy)

Efficiency targets

- Promoting demand-side management and modal shift (the PEP )

- Decouple transport growth significantly from GDP (6th EAP)
- "...a switch to more efficient and cleaner forms of transport including better organization and logistics" (6EAP)

-...emphasis on demand management" (EECCA Strategy)

Link to other policy goals and targets

- Integration of environment and health into transport policy
-"..reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector
- "..Better integration of land-use and transport planning."
- "develop transport infrastructure further through networks, better traffic management. "
- Extension of pan-European transport corridors to neighboring areas (2004 Santiago de Compostela Conference)
- TEN established by 2020 (884/2004/CE)

- 140g CO2 average passenger car fleet emissions by 2008
 120g CO2 by 2012 (EC/industry agreement)
-  Noise from transport is reduced and is no longer presents a health concern
- "introduction of road pricing" (EU Sust. Dev. Strategy, 2001)
-  "promoting measures to reflect the full environmental costs in the price of transport" (6EAP)
- Promote more balanced regional development (EU 2001 Sust. Dev. Strategy)
- Link sea, inland water and rail transport
- Improve efficiency of intermodal services (2001 White Paper on Transport)

- Develop and implement national transport strategies for sustainable development to: improve affordability, efficiency, convenience, GHG emissions, urban air quality, health (EECCA Strategy)
- Introduce vehicle and fuel standards (EECCA Strategy)

Related policy documents



Methodology for indicator calculation

To obtain outlook of decoupling of fright demand from economic growth, the trends from 2000 to 2050 of volume of fright transport in passenger-km and GDP in billion USD are compared and shown separately on a graph. Relative decoupling occurs when fright transport demand grows at a rate be low that of GDP. Absolute decoupling occurs when passenger transport demand falls while GDP rises or remains constant.

The projections for the volume of fright transport and GDP are taken from the IEA/WBCSD Sustainable Mobility Project (SMP) model. To cover pan-European region these data were extracted from the publicly available IEA/SMP model spreadsheet (version 1.6) for the following geographical areas: OECD Europe, Eastern Europe, and Former Soviet Union.

Outlook for the modal split share for fright transport (for all types of vehicles presented in the section definition) in total inland transport was extracted from the same model.

Overview of the SMP Spreadsheet Model

The IEA/SMP Transport Spreadsheet Model is designed to handle all transport modes and most vehicle types. It produces projections of vehicle stocks, travel, energy use and other indicators through 2050 for a reference case and for various policy cases and scenarios. It is designed to have some technology-oriented detail and to allow fairly detailed bottom-up modeling. The SMP spreadsheet model 1.60 is the most recent version and is available for a more detailed inspection (and use, though no user guide has been prepared and there are no plans, at this time, of providing on-going usersupport for the model. A very basic outline of how to use the model is provided in the first sheet of the model spreadsheet).

The model does not include any representation of economic relationships (e.g., elasticities) nor does it track costs. Rather, it is an "accounting" model, anchored by the "ASIF" identity:

  • Activity (passenger and freight travel)
  • Structure (travel shares by mode and vehicle type)
  • Intensity (fuel efficiency)
  • Fuel type = fuel use by fuel type (and CO2 emissions per unit fuel use).
Various indicators are tracked and characterized by coefficients per unit travel, per vehicle or per unit fuel use as appropriate.

The modes, technologies, fuels, regions and basic variables are included in the spreadsheet model. Not all technologies or variables are covered for all modes. Apart from energy use, the model tracks emissions of CO2, and CO2-equivalent GHG emissions (from vehicles as well as upstream), PM, NOx, HC, CO and Pb. Projections of safety (fatalities and injuries) are also incorporated.

The most detailed segment of the model covers light-duty vehicles. The flow chart  on the page 4 of the Model Documentation provides an overview of the key linkages in the light-duty vehicle section of the model. For other passenger modes (such as buses, 2-wheelers), the approach is similar, however there is no stock model. Stocks are projected directly; vehicle sales needed to achieve these stocks is not currently tracked.

Overview of the projections, regions and viraibales used by the IEA/SMP transport spreadsheet model is peresented in the table below:

Sectors / Modes Vehicle
Regions Variables
vehicles (cars, minivans,
* Medium trucks
* Heavy-duty (long-haul)
* Mini-buses ("paratransit")
* Large buses
* 2-3 wheelers
* Aviation (Domestic +
* Rail freight
* Rail passenger
* National waterborne
(Inland plus coastal)
* Int'l shipping
* Internal combustion engine:
* Gasoline
* Diesel
* Ethanol
* Biodiesel
* Hybrid-
Electric ICE (same fuels)
* Fuel-cell vehicle
* Hydrogen
(With feedstock
differentiation for biofuels
and hydrogen)
* OECD Europe
* OECD North
* OECD Pacific
(Japan, Korea,
Australia, NZ)
* Former Soviet
Union (FSU)
* Eastern Europe
* Middle East
* China
* India
* Other Asia
* Latin America
* Africa
Passenger kilometres
of travel
* Vehicle sales (LDVs
* Vehicle stocks
* Average vehicle fuelefficiency
* Vehicle travel
* Fuel use
* CO2 emissions
* Pollutant emissions
(PM, NOx, HC, CO,
* Safety (road fatalities
and injuries)

Key model assumptions for the reference case

The reference case projects one possible set of future conditions, based on recent trends in various important indicators and other variables. Adjustments are made for expected deviations from recent trends due to factors such as existing policies, population projections, income projections and expected availability of new technologies. Expectations for other future changes in trends, such as saturations in vehicle ownership, are also incorporated.

In general, no major new policies are assumed to be implemented beyond those already implemented in 2003. An exception to this is where there is clear evidence of what might be called "policy trajectories" - future policy actions that are either explicit or implicit in other trends. For example, a clear trend is emerging in the developing world to adopt vehicle emissions standards of a form similar to those already implemented in OECD countries. It is assumed that this "policy trajectory" will continue in the future. In contrast, no such policy trajectory is evident for reduced light-duty vehicle (LDV) fuel consumption; we therefore only incorporate existing fuel consumption programmes through the year they currently end; we assume a return after that date to historical (non-policy-driven) trends in fuel consumption.

In general, the model tried to avoid introducing significant changes in trends after 2030. We run the trends assumed to exist in 2030 out to 2050 in order to see the net effects  and directions in that latter year of actions and events that often occurred years earlier.

For more infomation click here

Methodology for gap filling


Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

Uncertainties related to indicator calculation

To answer the question of whether freight demand is being decoupled from economic growth we need to look at the intensity of freight transport relative to changes in real GDP. A reduction in intensity should signal relative decoupling. This has some implications on the interpretation one makes of the observed intensity values. GDP in constant prices simply takes away the effect of price increases from year X to year Y but it does not guarantee that GDP in year X for country A is comparable to GDP in country B (as year X is the result of price increases from previous years etc). Therefore, cross-regional comparisons of transport intensities based on real GDP may be relevant for trends (i.e. growth/changes over time) but not for comparing intensity values in specific years. If we are interested in knowing whether freight transport intensity is higher in one region than in another, GDP should ideally be measured in purchasing power parities. These are currency conversion rates that both convert to a common currency and equalize the purchasing power of different currencies (i.e. they eliminate the differences in price levels between countries).

It is arguable, however, whether purchasing power parities are the best currency unit for time-series analysis. One way to avoid such problems is to use population instead of GDP. This would in principle be appropriate for the comparison of intensities between countries as well as for looking at trends over time. It seems also more equitable. To respond to the question of whether or not we are decoupling transport demand from economic activity (i.e. looking at growth rates over time) we would still need to use GDP.

Uncertainties related to IEA/SMP transport model

The model does not include any representation of economic relationships (e.g.,
elasticities) nor does it track costs. The IEA has a cost-optimization model capable of this, the ETP model, but this model was not employed in the SMP's work due to its lack of transparency and its complexity.

Uncertainties related to use of outlooks

to be filled
           See more on the CSI 036 - Fright transport demand.

Other type of uncertainties is related to the use of models and scenarious. (to be filled)

Data sets uncertainty

The table below provides a simplified picture of what types of variables and the level of
detail modelled for each major transport mode in the IEA/SMP transport spreadsheet model. As can be seen in the next table, there is a range of coverage by mode, as well as variations in the quality of the data available (indicated by x or i). In general, there is better data available for light-duty vehicles than for other modes, though for non-OECD regions most data is quite poor, except for aggregate estimates of transport energy consumption. New vehicle characteristics are only tracked for light-duty vehicles; existing stock is used as the basic vehicle indicator for all other modes.

The reference case includes the modes and variables identified in the table below:

Modes and Variables Covered in the Reference Case Projection

Auto Air

OECD regions

Activity (passenger
or tonne km)
* * * * * * i

New vehicle
(sales, fuel

energy intensity
* * * * * * i

Calculation of
energy use and
vehicle CO2
* * * * * i

Non-OECD regions

Activity (passenger
or tonne km)
* i
* * i

New vehicle
(sales, fuel

energy intensity
i i i i i i i i

Calculation of
energy use and
vehicle CO2
i * i * * i i i *
Note: * = have data of fair to good reliability; i = have data but incomplete or of poor reliability; blank = have nothing or have not attempted to project. Note that data of fair reliability is available for energy use across all road vehicles in non-OECD countries, but breaking this out into various road modes (cars, trucks, buses, 2- wheelers) is difficult and relatively unreliable.
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Rationale uncertainty

The relevance of the modal split policy for environmental impact of freight transport arises from differences in environmental performance (resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollutant and noise emissions, land consumption, accidents etc.) of transport modes. These differences are becoming smaller on a tonne-km basis, which makes it increasingly difficult to determine the direct and future overall environmental effects of modal shifting. Additionally the differences in performance within specific modes can be substantial as for example old trains versus new trains. The total environmental effect of modal shifting can in fact only be determined on a case-by-case basis, where local circumstances and specific local environmental effects can be taken into account (e.g. transport in urban areas or through sensitive areas). The magnitude of environmental effects from modal shifting may be limited, as modal shift is only an option for small market segments. Opportunities for modal shifting depend amongst others on the type of goods lifted - e.g. perishable goods or bulk goods - and the specific transport requirements for these goods.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • Outlook 027
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage


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