TERM 2016: Fundamental changes needed for sustainable mobility

News Published 14 Dec 2016 Last modified 14 Dec 2016
2 min read
Photo: © Jordanlye/
What changes are needed in order to move towards a more sustainable mobility system in Europe? A European Environment Agency (EEA) report released today assesses the latest environmental trends in transport and presents examples of the different transitions needed in terms of technology, urban planning and societal behaviour to make transport more sustainable.

The EEA report ‘TERM 2016: Transitions towards a more sustainable mobility system’ assesses the progress that European Union Member States are making to improve the environmental performance of transport in line with related EU policy targets. The report also looks at the big changes underway in the sector, from emerging technologies such as electric and driverless cars, to recent innovations that are becoming increasingly popular, such as shared or on-demand mobility services for commuters.

It is clear that Europe’s environment will continue to face transport-related pressures, such as air pollution, biodiversity fragmentation, traffic congestion, inefficient use of urban space and noise. Transport activity across Europe is expected to continue growing under current trends and policies. From 2010 to 2050, it is estimated that passenger transport will grow by about 40 %, with aviation as the fastest growing sector. Freight transport is expected to grow by 58 %. Consistent with these outlooks, greenhouse gas emissions under current policies are forecast to increase slightly between 2030 and 2050 to 15 % above 1990 levels, significantly higher than the 60 % reduction target proposed for 2050. Reaching Europe’s long term environmental targets will therefore still require substantial efforts.

So what changes can society make to our mobility system to significantly improve its sustainability? The report stresses that while technological developments will continue to largely determine the future environmental performance of the transport sector, many past beneficial technological advances have historically been offset by the ever increasing demand for transport. Meeting decarbonisation and other environmental goals for the sector requires not only incremental changes such as improvements to the fuel efficiency of road vehicles, planes and ships, but also more far reaching changes, such as the widespread introduction of electric vehicles and changes to lifestyles and habits which greatly influence the way that society uses transport.

Looking to the future, the report identifies the scale of change required, in terms of transport’s environmental performance, in order to meet the EU’s long-term decarbonisation targets for 2050. It also looks at the strong links and interdependencies between the transport system and the food, land use and tourism sectors. Various barriers and ‘lock-ins’ that can hold up or delay the shift to a more sustainable mobility system are presented. One clear example of a ‘lock-in’ is society’s continued dependence on the fossil-fuel powered internal combustion engine, coupled with continued investments in traditional road transport infrastructure, which can hamper efforts to shift to more sustainable modes of transport.

Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM)

The annual TERM reports published by EEA use the latest available European data in order to assess key trends, measures and overall progress of the transport sector towards its environmental policy targets. Each year, the reports also address a specific issue. Recent TERM reports have for example evaluated the environmental impacts associated with urban and long-distance transport, the impact of transport on air quality, and the effect of transport policies on the past evolution of the sector and its pressures on the environment.


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