Greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Europe

Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s transport sector increased steadily between 2013 and 2019, a trend that diverges significantly from those in other sectors during that period. Preliminary estimates for 2020 indicate a substantial drop in transport emissions, due to decreased activity during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is anticipated that transport emissions will rebound after 2020. National projections compiled by the EEA indicate that even with measures currently planned in the Member States, domestic transport emissions will only drop below their 1990 level in 2029. International transport emissions (aviation and maritime) are projected to continue increasing.

Published: ‒ 25min read

The EU’s domestic transport emissions increased by 0.8% between 2018 and 2019. According to preliminary estimates, they dropped by 12.7% in 2020, because of the drastic decrease in transport activity during the Covid-19 pandemic. For comparison, in the years following the economic crisis a decade ago, emissions decreased by 1-3% per year.

National projections indicate that Member States expect a significant rebound in transport emissions after 2020. Without the implementation of additional measures, an increase could be observed until 2025, and the reduction expected thereafter would still leave transport emissions in 2030 around 10% above 1990 levels. If Member States implement the additional measures planned to reduce transport emissions, these would peak in 2022 and be reduced thereafter. 2030 emissions would then reach a level 6% 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.

In addition to domestic transport, international aviation and international maritime sectors contribute to overall emissions related to transportation. GHG emissions from these sectors have increased since 1990. Among the domestic transport categories, only emissions from domestic navigation and railways have decreased since 1990. Furthermore, only road transport emissions are projected to decrease until 2030.

Road transport constitutes the highest proportion of overall transport emissions (in 2019 it emitted 72% of all domestic and international transport GHG). 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.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant reduction in transport emissions in 2020, and particularly affected aviation. International aviation emissions were 54% lower in 2020 than in 2019. However, a drop in emissions due to a pandemic is likely temporary. Air traffic activity is projected to rise again from 2021 and flight numbers are expected to return to 2019 levels by 2024 at the earliest.

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