Transport is a vital sector but our current mobility system is simply not sustainable. Decisive policies, smart investments and changes in demand can trigger a vital shift towards cleaner transport modes and reduce the sector’s impact on the environment, climate and our health.

Transport connects people, cultures, cities, countries and continents. It is one of the main pillars of modern societies and economies, allowing producers to sell their products across the world and travellers to discover new places. Transport networks also ensure access to key public services, such as education and health, contributing to a better quality of life. Connecting to transport helps boost the economy in remote areas, creating jobs and spreading wealth.

There is, however, a downside to our current transport model. The transport sector causes substantial negative impacts on the environment and human health. Transport is responsible for about a quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and causes air pollution, noise pollution and habitat fragmentation.

More concretely, it is the only major economic sector in Europe where GHGs have increased since 1990 and is also the largest contributor to nitrogen oxides emissions, which harm health and the environment. Similarly, road transport is one of the main sources of environmental noise pollution in Europe.

As demand has increased, so has the overall energy efficiency of new passenger cars, vans and trucks, planes and ships, but not at the same pace as total transport emissions. The sheer volume of transport activity has impacted our GHG emissions and demands on all types of transport are expected to increase.

Europe aims to become climate-neutral by 2050. This cannot be achieved without a sustainable mobility system, based on cleaner and more active transport modes, cleaner fuels and, where possible, reducing the need for mobility.

Our data shows that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the EU’s transport sector increased steadily between 2013 and 2019. Today, transport emissions represent around 25% of the EU's total GHG emissions.

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.

Our indicators show some of the latest trends:

  • Average CO2 emissions from all new cars registered in Europe in 2023 continued to decrease and were 1.4% lower than in 2022, according to provisional data published today by the EEA. Similarly, average CO2 emissions from new vans continued to fall, and were 1.6% lower than in 2022. The reductions in emissions from new cars and vans are related to the growing share of fully electric vehicles.
  • 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.
  • Emissions of air pollutants from transport have decreased, except for NH3 and N2O, in the EU-27 in recent decades, because of policy efforts across several transport modes. Reductions in the road transport sector account for the greatest share of this progress, while emissions from the shipping and aviation sectors increased with some pollutants.
  • The share of energy from renewable sources used for transport in the EU increased from under 2% in 2005 to 8.7% in 2022 according to preliminary estimates.
  • The number of electric vehicles is growing in Europe, every year. For example, electric car registrations for 2022 made up 21.6% in the share of total new car registrations, according to preliminary data. 
  • At least 18 million people are highly annoyed and 5 million are highly sleep disturbed by long-term exposure to noise from transport in the EU. 

The European Green Deal aims to achieve a 90% reduction in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Reaching this milestone will involve significant changes in how we power and operate our cars, planes, and ships.

Under the umbrella of the European Green Deal, the EU has adopted and put in place a series of policy packages to achieve a more sustainable mobility system. Some of these initiatives aim at accelerating the transition to cleaner fuels, such as those used in passenger cars and vans, and heavy duty vehicles, or those used in shipping and aviation. The EU has also set concrete targets to ensure that a growing share of the energy used in the transport sector comes from renewable sources.

Other initiatives are aimed at reducing the impacts of transport on human health and the environment. These include action on noise pollution or tackling habitat fragmentation through wildlife crossings.

Overall, the EU must move toward a sustainable mobility system that rethinks how people and goods are transported. This requires a system prioritising public transport, such as rail, and active mobility, such as walking and cycling, into urban design. It also calls for rethinking the need for mobility and, where possible, reducing it, for example through work-from-home schemes.

Transport demand in Europe increased by...


in passenger travel

between 2000 and 2019


in air travel

between 2000 and 2019


in car transport

between 2000 and 2019


in freight transport

between 2000 and 2019

Source: Decarbonising road transport — the role ofvehicles, fuels and transport demand

Picture of an orange sailboat in calm waters with the shadow of a large ship container visible in a yellow background.

Environmental impacts of maritime transport

With 77% of European external trade and 35% of all trade by value between EU Member States moved by sea, maritime transport is a key part of the international supply chain and vital for the European economy.

At the same time, the sector’s activities impact the environment, climate, and health and well-being of EU citizens. Ships emit considerable amounts of greenhouse gases, air pollutants and underwater noise. The spread of non-indigenous species and water pollution are also concerns.

According to the joint EEA-EMSA report, the maritime sector has taken measures to reduce its environmental impacts. Still, more is needed to achieve sustainability, especially since the industry is expected to grow strongly over the coming decades.

Aviation’s environmental and climate impact increases

Aviation has produced economic benefits, stimulated innovation and improved connectivity within Europe. But unfortunately, this growth has also increased negative impacts on climate change, noise and air quality. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a brief respite from these impacts as aviation travel drastically decreased. These numbers are growing again, though.

Despite improvements in technology, operations, airports and market-based measures, the aviation sector’s impacts on the environment, climate and people’s health continue to increase.

These are some of the findings of the joint EEA-EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) report on the enviromental impacts of the aviation sector.

Picture of a right airplane wing above the clouds in a sky with the sun reflected on the right.
Picture of a railway station at night with the tracks in the centre and passengers waiting on the platforms on either side, and the city and port at the background.

Train or plane? The most sustainable is...

Our transport and environment report (TERM) 2020 looks into the impacts of rail and air travel, both of which are a big  part of Europe’s passenger transport sector. It concludes that rail travel is the best and most sensible mode of travel, apart from walking or cycling. 

Aviation’s emission impacts are much higher on a passenger-kilometre basis. But flying is not necessarily the most harmful choice. Travel by a petrol or diesel-powered car, especially if traveling alone, can be more harmful.

A shift from air to rail travel can play a crucial role in helping the EU meet its objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 90% by 2050 compared with 1990.

How can Copernicus help?

What if the ground is moving? Are our road and rail transport networks stable enough?

Copernicus is the European Union's earth observation programme. It combines detailed geospatial data obtained through satellites and from ground observations.

Information on surface displacement due to geohazards or human activity is provided by the European Ground Motion Service (EGMS), provided by the EEA, within the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service.

This can be used to monitor subsidence affecting airport runways, railways, or breakwaters in ports. It enables the shift from air to rail travel by helping to identify the best routes and tracks.

Picture of a plane landing on a green runway with the city in the background and the snowy hills in the distance.

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