Greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Europe

Following a period of steady growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s transport sector from 2013 to 2019, the sector’s emissions dropped substantially in 2020 because of decreased activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Preliminary estimates of emissions in 2021 indicate a rebound in transport emissions last year of 7.7%. National projections compiled by the EEA suggest 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 steadily between 2013 and 2019 because of growth in passenger transport and inland freight volumes (which are closely related to economic growth trends). The emissions then decreased by 13.6% between 2019 and 2020, because of a drastic decrease in transport activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to preliminary estimates, emissions increased by 7.7% in 2021, following a rebound effect of the economy. 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 an increase in transport emissions in the coming years. Without the implementation of additional measures, an increase could be observed until 2025, while the subsequent projected reductions would still leave transport emissions in 2030 around 9% above 1990 levels. If Member States implement the additional measures planned to reduce transport emissions, these would peak in 2022 and be reduced thereafter. With these additional measures, 2030 emissions would reach a level of 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 2020 it emitted 77% of all EU transport GHGs (including domestic transport and international bunkers). 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, a drop in emissions due to the pandemic was temporary. Air traffic activity rose by 22% in 2021 and flight numbers are expected to return to 2019 levels by 2023 at the earliest .

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