Following six years of steady growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s transport sector, transport emissions dropped substantially in 2020 because of reduced activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Preliminary estimates of emissions in 2021 indicate a rebound of 8.6% in transport, followed by further growth of 2.7% in 2022. National projections compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA) suggest that, even with measures currently planned in the Member States, domestic transport emissions will only drop below their 1990 level in 2032. International transport emissions (aviation and maritime) are projected to continue increasing.

Figure 1. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Europe

The EU’s domestic GHG emissions from transport steadily increased from 2013 until the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, largely due to growth in passenger transport and inland freight volumes. Between 2019 and 2020, GHG emissions from transport fell by 13.5% and rebounded from the effects of the pandemic in 2021 with a growth of 8.6%. In 2022, according to preliminary estimates, these emissions continued their upward trend by 2.7%.

According to their national projections, Member States foresee a continued increase in transport emissions in the coming years. Without the implementation of additional measures, emissions are expected to grow through 2024. The transport-related measures currently planned, but not yet implemented, by Member States are projected to reverse this trend, with emissions peaking this year.

Looking towards 2030, current policies and measures would deliver a GHG emission reduction from transport that remains 4% above 1990 levels. With additional measures, emissions from transport in 2030 would reach a level 5% below 1990 levels. Most planned policies and measures in the transport sector focus on promoting low-carbon fuels or electric cars, as well as encouraging a modal shift to public transport.

Figure 2. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport in the EU, by transport mode and scenario

In addition to domestic transport, international aviation and international maritime sectors also contribute to transport-related emissions. Among the domestic transport categories, emissions from domestic navigation, domestic aviation and railway have decreased since 1990 and are projected to remain relatively stable in the coming years.

Road transport constitutes the highest proportion of overall transport emissions - emitting 76% of all EU’s transport GHG emissions (including domestic transport and international bunkers) in 2021. As a majority of existing and planned measures in the Member States focus on road transport, this share is expected to decrease as road transport decarbonises faster than other transport modes. The largest increases up to 2030 are projected in the aviation sector, followed by international maritime transport, as they are not prioritised by national policies. These sub-sectors are therefore expected to constitute a higher proportion of transport sector emissions in the coming years.

Aviation was particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with international aviation emissions 58% lower in 2020 than in 2019. However, the drop in emissions due to the pandemic was temporary. Air traffic activity rose by 24% in 2021 and further accelerated in 2022, with a 48% increase. Flight numbers are expected to return to 2019 levels by 2025 at the earliest.